UC Davis professor initiates change in the Middle East

In the recent months, the world has seen the power of the people, specifically youth, through the numerous uprisings that have taken place in various Middle Eastern countries. With UC Davis anthropology and women and gender studies professor Suad Joseph’s help, these young people will be given the tools necessary to begin social change.

Joseph will be conducting a two-year program in Lebanon and Egypt, which will train a small group of graduate students from Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine on how to accomplish social change through academia.

In the first year of the program, students will learn the basics of proposal writing and research design. During the second year of the program, students from the previous year will mentor new incoming students in hopes that all these students will learn how to mentor each other in these subject areas.

The program is a part of the Arab Families Working Group (AFWG), founded in 2001 by Joseph. It is a network of 16 scholars who conduct research on families and youth in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and their diasporas in the United States and Canada. AFWG is committed to ensuring that its research is publicly accessible to NGO’s, practitioners, scholars and government. The two-year program will be funded partly by a $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, in addition to the many grants awarded to AFWG since 2001.

Joseph has facilitated annual research design and proposal writing workshops for new UC Davis faculty, organized by the office of the vice provost for academic affairs. She has performed this type of work for over 30 years and has lead over 35 training workshops in the past eight years in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

“Teaching students or faculty or practitioners how to write research proposals and design research is teaching them how to problem-solve, beginning to end. It is empowering,” Joseph said. “That is what we mean to do: empower these young students in problem solving in a critical, evidence-based manner. It will give them data, analysis and substantive theory to support their ideas and arguments.”

The biggest challenge in planning this training program has been the amount of time Joseph and her colleagues have had. Joseph would prefer to make this a five-year program instead of two because it would allow more depth of training. Yet, she was grateful to be granted the two-year timeframe.

She believes that one of the most important aspects of this project is to empower the students with the capacity to problem-solve, being that there are many social, economic and political issues that must be addressed in these countries.

“By knowing how to identify important questions, how to break them into the key component parts, how to develop steps for answering those questions, how to gather data which will answer those questions and how to draw out the social value from answering those questions – these are the steps for a persuasive discourse that can change society,” Joseph said.

Golzar Ansari, a senior international relations, history and Middle East/South Asia Studies triple major and former student and intern of Joseph, said that Joseph has what it takes to initiate change.

“She will be very successful in the Middle East because it seems like she has dedicated her entire life to it and passionately cares about the subject,” Ansari said. “Since she is of Lebanese background, I think she has personal ties to it, and when you have a personal tie to what you are studying, it usually makes you more passionate about it.”

Another former student of Joseph, junior international relations major Ariel Huff, was inspired by Joseph to act in accordance to how she truly feels instead of acting based on popular misconceptions.

“Joseph is an incredible woman of great character,” Huff said.

Joseph believed that the measures she is taking in teaching young people how to problem-solve will prove to be valuable knowledge in the coming years in the Middle Eastern region. Her research has covered multiple areas, including the politicization of religion in Lebanon, local community organizations, women’s networks, and many others.

Getting to know people in the context of their own lives, and understanding how they see the world, is the most exciting work she can imagine doing because it is drenched in real human experience.

For Joseph, this is one of the most exciting moments in modern Arab history. The dramatic fall of dictators through the persistent and selfless acts of the people, mainly the youth, is a lesson in the power of ideas, the will of the people, and the capacity of youth to make a difference, Joseph said.

“There are dangers ahead, as entrenched power does not relinquish power easily. Ultimately, we must always trust in the good will and the good judgment of the people in the long run to develop better societies and better governance,” Joesph said. “Whatever is the outcome in the short term, the long term bodes a lesson for all of us: oppression will not stand in the long course.”

PRISCILLA WONG can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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