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Why I Majored in Middle Eastern Studies

Malak Afaneh ’21

As a proud daughter of Palestinian immigrants, I chose to major in Middle Eastern studies as a way to combine my connection to my cultural roots with academic knowledge of the history, ideology, and political patterns of the region. As a child listening to stories of my grandparents' journey as Palestinian refugees in pursuit of a new life in a turbulent political climate, I craved to further understand my family's narratives through my own research of the region's rich past and complex future. My ability to read and analyze scholarly works about the Middle East is a direct form of cultural pride and liberation from the continuous erasure of my identity, and a way for me to explore the intricacies of my cultural and social identity.

The Middle Eastern Studies (MES) Departments at Pomona, and the five colleges as a whole, allows students to explore a variety of tracks related to the region. The major's flexibility of requirements has allowed me to take classes from religious studies to anthropology to art history, all while developing critical thinking skills and fresh perspectives on the region's history as a whole. Furthermore, although I was an Arabic heritage speaker, I still wanted to improve my speaking skills. The MES Department offers abundant classes to learn the standard, colloquial, and even poetic forms of the Arabic language, and opens doors for an opportunity to study abroad in the Middle East or even communicate with Arabic speaking communities.

In the fall semester of 2018, I took Anthropology of the Middle East with Scripps College Professor Lara Deeb and was able to complete a final paper that emphasized the way Palestinian women utilize outlets of poetry for expression of their emotional trauma and suffering. Through analysis of the symbolism, motifs, and literacy devices of the poetry of different Palestinian women, I was able to emphasize the way in which artistic mediums serve as a form of healing and processing from trauma endured under practices of settler colonialism. The final was an incredible opportunity to produce my own zine of Palestinian poetry along with an in depth academic paper.