From the Iraq War to intervention in Libya, recent events in U.S. history have accentuated the importance of learning Arabic for Americans. The United States State Department calls Arabic one of a number of “critical languages” and offers scholarships for American college students to travel to the Middle East to study.
The Arab World is home to important financial and business markets in places including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and The United Arab Emirates. According to Bloomberg Rankings, Arabic is the third most important language to know for business after Chinese and English. Roughly 221 million people across 23 countries speak Arabic.
The Arabic program at Colorado College is relatively new. If you were a student at Colorado College five years ago, you would not have had the option of taking Arabic. Two years ago, CC hired Professor Mona El-Sherif. During Professor El-Sherif’s short tenure, she has created an Arabic Language, Literature, and Culture minor and seen enrollment in the Elementary Arabic class increase from seven students two years ago to twenty-five students with a waiting list this year.
In recent years, a number of CC students have studied abroad or used Venture Grants to go to the Middle East and North Africa. In the past year alone, CC students have travelled to Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, The United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and the occupied state of Palestine.
Arabic is becoming increasingly important and the Colorado College student community is responding by taking more Arabic and showing more interest in the Arab World. Despite the progress, the CC administration has failed to accommodate this progress. CC still has yet to achieve a competitive Arabic program among top liberal arts colleges in the country.
Arabic’s current minimal resource allocation makes for slow progress and frustrates professors and students. Students of Arabic are not even eligible for awards at the Honors Convocation!
Since the founding of the Colorado College Arabic program, the College has employed only one Arabic professor and an adjunct professor at a time. The adjunct professor is typically a one-year visiting graduate student sponsored by Fulbright. One-and-a-half professors are hardly enough to accommodate the increasing number of Arabic students. Worse still, Colorado College is losing Professor El-Sherif, an invaluable asset to the Arabic program.
Not only are these administrative shortfalls devastating to Colorado College’s Arabic students, they are damaging to the viability of our college in the competitive world of higher education. “As a transfer, I see a huge difference between the Arabic program at my first school and the one here,” says CC sophomore Lindsay Semel. “Because the program was well funded, we were able to have frequent events and speakers that enriched our understanding of Arabic language and other aspects of the Arabic world. Because there were more teachers, there was a wider array of classes and exposure to different accents and dialects. I really felt like the program was highly valued within the university and would love to see the program here develop similarly.”
Luckily, Colorado College is in a unique position. We have a number of Middle Eastern experts from different disciplines that are valuable assets to the development of Arabic language and cultural programs at our college. Bob Lee, Peter Wright, Jane Murphy, and Ruth Kolarik are current faculty members that are the invaluable foundations for the future of Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at Colorado College.
The Colorado College Arabian Knights, CC’s student-run Arabic language and culture club, is also making an effort to bring more information about Arabic and the Arab world to campus. Says CC junior and Arabian Knight Will Harris, “We realized how much fun and how important is was for us to promote Arabic and to show our friends and classmates that there is so much more to the Arab world than struggle and conflict.”
There is some momentum in the right direction, but there is much to be done for the Arabic program at CC. The first goal of Colorado College’s mission statement is “to provide the finest liberal arts education in the country.” Surely, we cannot hope to achieve this mission if we do not realize the importance of Arabic.