The University Record, March 26, 2001

Dearborn launches first Center for Arab American Studies

By Jennifer Sroka

The new Center for Arab American Studies at the U-M-Dearborn will be the first of its kind in the nation to teach students, professionals and the community about Arab Americans while acting as a research hub for scholars and a platform for the discussion of critical policy issues among Arab American policy-makers, educators, researchers and service organizations.

“Southeast Michigan is the ideal location for America’s first Center for Arab American Studies,” says Ronald Stockton, professor of political science at Dearborn and interim director of the center. “Not only do we have the nation’s largest and most diverse Arab American community, but we have unique community resources in terms of people and organizations.”

Three million people in the United States trace their origin to the Arab world. Southeastern Michigan is home to roughly 250,000 people of Arab descent in a region of 5 million.

In conjunction with the U-M’s Ann Arbor and Flint campuses, as well as Wayne State University, the Center for Arab American Studies at the U-M-Dearborn will coordinate existing programs and build upon them with the support and cooperation of local and national organizations.

The Center will have an academic advisory board made up of Arab American scholars, as well as a community advisory board composed of members of major Arab American organizations in the area.

“The community is very supportive of the project,” Stockton says. “We have a very diverse Arab population representing all the religious and regional groups found in the Arab world. It is for good reason that journalists or scholars wanting to understand Arab Americans think of Michigan and the Dearborn area.”

The Center will have three primary functions: education, research and policy. Students, professionals and the public will learn about Arab Americans through expanded course offerings, internship placements, cultural competency programs and information on the Internet.

In addition, the Center will act as a hub for scholars to investigate, present and publish their work. “Much good research is being done, but too often, other scholars are not aware of it,” Stockton says. “We can bring it together in a central location so the diverse experiences of Arab Americans will be known, not only to this generation, but to future generations.”

The Center also will serve as a place for individuals and community groups to preserve their past with a collection of primary and secondary source materials, community-based research partnerships, and research fellowships.

“It is so important that we preserve the records of our lives for the use of future generations,” said Stockton, an amateur genealogist. “The papers, photographs and letters of families and organizations are often lost or burned up in fires or even thrown away. Material of exceptional historic interest may be sitting up in an attic somewhere. The Center can provide a place where those records can be kept safe.”

The Center also will encourage dialogue among Arab American organizations, public policy-makers, educators and researchers by organizing policy forums and other events.

A national search will commence soon for a Center director, who will hold a faculty position and teach Arab American subjects. The University also will hire an outreach director for the Center.

The Center will be funded by the University, external grants and private support. The U-M-Dearborn will provide faculty and support staff, and the Office of the Vice President for Research on the Ann Arbor campus has provided a $100,000 grant for start-up expenses, according to Stockton. The Center is applying for financial and programmatic support to fund a visiting scholars program and conferences and events. There also will be a fund-raising effort in the community to finance the creation of an archive of Arab American materials, he said.