Commencement 2009

‘Internationalization’ slowly gets defined

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 2009

With three years down, one to go in her Brown education, Samira Thomas ’10 has a specific goal set for next year: a thesis on the redevelopment of post-conflict cities with an emphasis on Kabul, Afghanistan. But until this year, Thomas said she had few opportunities to pursue her concentration, Urban Studies, in any perspective other than a Western one.

“It has been really challenging to find classes at Brown on urban topics outside of American cities, and particularly on cities in the Middle East,” Thomas wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Enter Ipek Tureli, a post-doctoral fellow from Turkey in the History of Art and Architecture department, and her new class HIAA 0490: “Urban Modernity in the Middle East.” The class surveyed 10 cities – including Kabul – and discussed how different disciplines frame the study of the Middle East. Tureli was able to bring in three guest speakers by utilizing funds made available by the University’s recent and growing focus on “internationalization.”

The term has become a ubiquitous representation of a University initiative – piloted in 2006 –to increase Brown’s recognition and role on the international stage. Yet the concrete impacts of the initiative are difficult to pin down for the average student. The University-wide changes are nowhere near complete, but students like Thomas have embraced the opportunities to internationalize their education.

“Some of the theorists we studied had come up in other classes and I had studied them from a Western perspective,” Thomas wrote. “Studying them from an international perspective was surprising as the interpretations of their work is quite different outside of America, and without the international perspective, my education would have been incomplete and I wouldn’t have even known it.”

An agenda takes shape
In September of 2006, President Ruth Simmons, along with Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98, listed improving Brown’s international presence among the three primary initiatives for that year. 

“One of my concerns is that we don’t necessarily have the profile of a global university,” Simmons told The Herald in 2006. During the following months, Simmons met with her cabinet and University administrators, including the Corporation, to discuss ways that the University could become more internationally prominent and thereby attract talented students from across the globe. That October the Corporation authorized a 30 percent increase in financial aid available for international students, whose applications – then being read for the class 2011 – are not considered on a need-blind basis.

But nonetheless, in attracting applicants from abroad, Vice President for International Affairs David Kennedy ’76 now says the University has progressed.

“We’ve gotten more and more applications from foreign students,” he said. “I think we’re doing quite well there. That’s one where we can declare victory.”

As the agenda began to take shape in the fall of 2006, The Herald reported that after a “strategic discussion session,” the Corporation produced several recommendations for the University’s efforts toward what Kertzer then termed “internationalization.” These recommendations included appointing an official to oversee the effort who would report directly to the provost, reviewing class offerings, developing regional councils to recruit students and expanding international internship and research program opportunities.
Kertzer appointed an advisory committee of students and faculty, which released a September 2007 report calling for support for internationalization in many different aspects of the University life, including “seed funding” to develop new “internationally focused” programs.

This seed funding is starting to bring forth results. One of these programs will allow Patrick Martin-Tuite ’10 to spend this summer in Capetown, South Africa, as he conducts research with the Treatment Action Campaign, the country’s largest HIV advocacy group. Martin-Tuite is one of the 14 students selected — from 55 applicants — to the new International Scholars Program to undertake their own research projects abroad. Through the program, students design coursework at Brown that will enhance their proposed summer research. Upon returning to Brown, these students can further synthesize what they have learned in a thesis or capstone project.

Martin-Tuite, a Development Studies concentrator, described his project looking at contemporary HIV policy as “poli sci meets history meets anthropology.” He said he will integrate his interviews with official and other local actors in policy-making into his senior thesis.

“This gives me the opportunity to look beyond the Rock. It’s a completely immersive experience,” he said.

Starting out on goals
In October 2007, David Kennedy ’76, then a professor of law and the director of the European Law Institute at Harvard Law School, was appointed to the newly created position of vice president of international affairs.

“Brown made the transition from strong regional college to national university-college over a whole generation. And it did so largely by having its own vision: the New Curriculum, its own approach to education,” he said. “I think the most important thing is that Brown make the transition to a global university in its own way.”

After over two years as Brown’s administrative leader in pushing forward internationalization, Kennedy spoke to The Herald about the current state of the initiative. He outlined the goals, which relate to curricular offerings, research and Brown’s role as a place for global dialogue, that are directing the University’s planning for shaping Brown’s global image.

The first of these is to “make the Brown curriculum a model for global undergraduate education.” Kennedy said this goal is designed to multiply the number and range of international experiences students have by appointing internationally recognized faculty and encouraging existing faculty to incorporate more international-related material into their curriculum. Within College Hill, Kennedy said the University also aims to play off and improve Brown’s already existing strengths, such as the Watson Institute for International Affairs, to encourage the best scholars to come to and utilize such centers.

Another is to support advanced academic research related to international questions by providing money for students to travel and to bring academic peers to campus, and this initiative has already led to partnerships for teaching and learning with several foreign universities. In line with this “open-door policy,” for example, Brown and the Parisian university Sciences Po created a summer program about issues of identity related to European Union expansion. Participating students from both schools will spend four weeks of the program, which begins this June, in Paris and four weeks in Providence, according to Vasuki Nesiah, director of international affairs.

Additionally, Kennedy said Brown will support a small number of initiatives to develop a special role for the University in teaching and researching global issues. For example, this June, Brown will host the first of its Brown International Advanced Research Institutes, where scholars and experts will convene for one to two weeks at a time for forums entitled “Law, Social Thought and Global Governance” and “Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Management.” Kennedy said that around ten pilot programs have been started and may attract more funding depending on how they progress in their first years.

The final goal, he said, for the internationalization effort is to use the University’s rising influence “to make Brown the place for sustained dialogue among the world’s leading thinkers.”

These goals are not just enacted from the top-down. Faculty have played a role in integrating international perspectives directly into the Brown curriculum.
Tureli, who teaches the
  course  on Middle Eastern cities, said that Urban Studies is usually reserved for Western nations and the Middle East tends to be discussed in a “third world sense.” The class looked at the way these regions have been represented, the framework through which they have been studied, and the experience of Middle Eastern people through artwork and film.

The three guest speakers brought in with funding from the internationalization initiative contributed to these perspectives. Hasan Uddin Kahn, an architectural historian at Roger Williams University, addressed the class about in the impact of architecture on the Muslim world. Salim Tamar, a Palestinian research fellow with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke about the divided city of Jerusalem, while Ahmed Mahsud, a modern urbanism historian, discussed the planned city of Islamabad.

“The feedback I’ve gotten has been really positive,” Tureli said. She added Brown does not offer many classes from a non-western perspective, and students want to be able to study international topics from avenues other than a political standpoint.
In finding ways to internationalize their own education, “the students who take this are already very committed,” Tureli said.