WMU News

WMU and KPS educators headed to Africa on Fulbright award

April 11, 2003

KALAMAZOO-Collaborators from Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Public Schools are seeking teachers who are willing to go to Senegal this summer for an in-depth look at Africa and Islam, and who can commit to creating relevant classroom curriculum when they return.

As part of a recently announced Fulbright-Hays Group Study Award from the U.S. Department of Education, a team of 14 people--half from the University and half from area public schools--will participate in "Tradition and Transition in Senegal: Islam, Globalization and Contemporary West Africa." Those who make the June 15-July 15 trip will be involved during the coming year in the development and dissemination of curriculum related to Islam and Francophone West Africa.

Twelve slots remain for university professors and Kalamazoo area public school educators who are primarily involved in area studies or language training, or who teach courses where African or Islamic culture, history, literature or creative arts might be addressed. Participants, who are expected to pay $850 for inoculations, medical insurance and other expenses, must attend planning meetings over the next two months, and a week of required preparation activities in early June.

Applications to join the study group are due Wednesday, April 16, to the Diether H. Haenicke Institute for International and Area Studies, the sponsoring organization at WMU. Additional background materials, a copy of the Fulbright grant and an application are available online at <www.wmich.edu/hcenter/senegal>.

In addition to being a unique opportunity for educators to learn first-hand about African culture, the research/curriculum development effort is different from many others because it examines culture in a French-speaking region and looks at Islam from a sub-Saharan perspective.

"Across most American universities, the majority of African studies programs are focused on the English-speaking countries, and likewise in comparative religion, the focus on Islam is typically in north Africa or Saudi Arabia," says project director Dr. W. F. Santiago-Valles, an associate professor of Africana studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

"As part of this effort, we will be visiting Senegal's public schools, working with our peers at the University of Chiekh Anta Diop in Dakar, and spending time in villages and holy cities," he says, adding that much of the participants' time will be spent collecting artifacts, participating in discussion groups and lectures, and collaborating on the development of teaching units. "We'll have an opportunity to study politics, the Islamic brotherhood, language acquisition, literacy programs, youth programs and more."

Santiago-Valles and Dr. Yvette Hyter, a speech pathology and audiology assistant professor who helped write the grant proposal, visited the country last year. There they met with facilitators at the West African Research Center, African Consultants International's Baobab Cultural Center and Chiekh Anta Diop University-Dakar, one of West Africa's premier cultural institutions in ethnic studies, international education, area studies and language training.

The upcoming collaboration will bolster Americans' knowledge about Muslim expressive cultures and beliefs, says Dr. Allen Webb, an associate professor of English and project co-director.

"We are living in a time where we are painfully ignorant about Islam, and the lack of knowledge is particularly acute in Michigan, where we have one of the largest populations of Islamic people in the U.S.," Webb says.

Ultimately, what they learn in Senegal will offer U.S. teacher's new ways to revisit old concepts and lessons about Africa and Islam, project planners say.

"Educators are putting more emphasis on smaller learning communities with the goal of assisting students in becoming global citizens," says Patricia Carlin, a Kalamazoo teacher who was part of the grant-writing team. "Teachers are working to make the world bigger and at the same time, a little smaller. The schools are becoming increasingly diverse, and this is an opportunity to give face and voice to many of those experiences."

The project is the result of two years of intensive research and hard work shouldered by a team of WMU faculty and local public school teachers. The group learned only very recently that they'd landed a $66,000 award from the intensely competitive Fulbright-Hays program. Additional funding comes from WMU's Haenicke Institute, which works to promote academic globalization and internationalization, the College of Education and other supporting organizations.

WMU professors in the disciplines of history, English, French, anthropology and business also have supported the grant, Webb says, as have a number of community groups, including the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the Collaborative for Innovation and Teaching Excellence, the Kalamazoo Islamic Center, the School University Partnership Team, and the Alliance Francaise.

For information about the project, call Santiago-Valles at (269) 387-2561, or contact Allen Webb at (269) 387-2605 or <allen.webb@wmich.edu>. More information about the Haenicke Institute is online at <www.wmich.edu/hcenter>.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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