Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

Examining The Arab Spring

In Research, Students on December 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Lara Dotson-Renta (second from left), Jemal Durdyguylyyeva (2nd from right) and Mark Firmani (right) at the annual Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) conference

Shortly before arriving at Quinnipiac, Dr. Lara Dotson-Renta (Assistant Dean of Career Services/Assistant Professor of Modern Languages) convened a panel at the University of Pennsylvania on October 24 (United Nations Day). The panel, titled “Globalization, Human Rights, and the Arab Spring,” brought together academics and artists to discuss the political and social impact of the uprisings taking place in the Middle East and North Africa since January of this year. The panel discussion was followed by a performance by Syrian-American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum, which highlighted the role of youth and popular music/media in the current regional dialogue.

Video highlights of the talks are available on Muftah.org:

Gender & the Arab Spring: Dr. Zakia Salime, Rutgers


The Syrian Uprising: Activist Dr. Hazem Hallak


Hip Hop & The Arab Spring: Omar Offendum


Dr. Dotson-Renta also recently accompanied QU students to the annual Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) conference, which took place in Washington, DC from December 1-December 4. Students who had been nominated by faculty members for their high academic achievement and strong regional interest were invited to attend and learn more about the area from a wide variety of academic and journalistic perspectives. Jemal Durdyguylyyeva (Political Science) and Mark Firmani (History) attended panels, roundtables, and a film festival, as well as meeting with specialists in the field.

Mark Firmani shared some of his reflections on attending MESA:

“Traveling to the MESA conference this past weekend was an unbelievable experience for me.  After the long train ride, registration, and dinner on Thursday night, I woke up early with Jemal to kick off the conference with an 8:30 AM session. It was a roundtable discussion on why studying the Middle East was important. This was an interesting first session for me because it was far more informal than a paper presentation. It consisted of thirty or so people around a table just talking. I was seated around the table just like everyone else, which was initially intimidating for me, being an undergraduate student in a sea of Ph.Ds. However, I’m glad I attended this type of event first because it set the stage for the rest of the conference by making me feel comfortable contributing to sessions through questions and comments.

After this first session, I went to every session that was offered that day until it was dinnertime. I chose these sessions based on the subjects or who was presenting. For the 11 AM session following the roundtable, I attended a panel on health and disease in the Ottoman Empire. While this is not exactly my interest, I attended the session to meet a professor from Yale who is an expert in the field. One of my other professors here also teaches part-time at Yale and knew him very well, thus providing me with an introduction. After the session, I introduced myself and we made plans to meet in New Haven sometime early next semester. This is a great example of how going to the conference is actively helping my long-term goals of attending graduate school.

At dinner Friday night, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the editor of Muftah, which was another amazing opportunity. It gave me the chance to have an informal interview for a position that aligned really appropriately with another career goal of mine: that of being an editor of a press. Getting the opportunity to get editorial experience in the field of the Middle East is something that helps both my plans for graduate school and my plans for a career. The conference presented many such opportunities for me to meet people, both within and outside of academia, which I would not have been exposed to otherwise.

For the next day, which happened to be the last day I would be attending the conference, I also went to all of the sessions that I could, beginning at 8:30 AM. The highlight of my day was a panel on the interdisciplinary study of history and literature; that is, using literature to further the study of history. There were four compelling presentations about how using literature to understand the history of a society and a time period was a burgeoning and exciting field. The study of history and literature is one that I want to adapt for my own graduate studies. Being a relatively unexplored field, it is one in which I will be able to make a mark. After the panel I had the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the pioneering scholars in the field, one of which I have been in touch with via email after the conference ended. He has been giving me advice about what books to read to get more of an idea of how to use literature to study history. He found my interest exciting because he is passionate about growing the field; he has been extremely helpful and supportive.

The final session of the conference that I attended was a plenary session from seven to nine in the evening about Islamophobia. It was easily my favorite presentation at the conference, with five experts in the field presenting five papers that were interesting, entertaining, and not pedantic in the least. It provided me with a lot of information to help combat Islamophobia as I encounter it on Quinnipiac’s campus. I already have been talking with my roommates and friends about the conference.

The opportunity provided to me by attending this conference was nothing less than fantastic. Probably the biggest aspect I took away from it was the actual presentations themselves. I was able to see what it was like to attend a professional academic conference: seeing the papers presented, following their arguments, seeing how question and answer sessions went, etc. It was an invaluable experience that helped me immeasurably in a variety of ways in my quest to get into graduate school. I am extremely thankful that I was nominated to attend, as I feel like events such as this should be offered to students interested in other fields. It provides an outlet of academic and intellectual development that otherwise could not be found on Quinnipiac’s campus, helping students grow and develop into more mature, independent learners.”

  1. What a great opportunity for our students, and it is wonderful to read first-hand accounts of how these events make a different in our students’ lives. Huge thanks to Lara for making this happen.

  2. And the photograph seems to show them enjoying it so much.

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