Institute Focuses on Contemporary Realities for Muslim Women

Every semester new flyers go up across the Scripps campus, and with each new wave there is always one eye-catching poster informing students of a lecture series hosted by the Scripps College Humanities Institute.

This is a potentially confusing flyer, because the events never cover the same issues, the speakers rarely come from similar disciplines and the institute changes its focus with each new series. It seems as if the Humanities Institute doesn't have one established identity, in spite of the fact that it was founded in 1986 and has been a part of Scripps for decades. So what's the deal?

This apparent identity crisis is precisely what the Humanities Institute aims to accomplish each semester. By focusing on a specific theme, the Humanities Institute delves into the causes and effects of the topical issues it explores. The institute invites a broad range of speakers for weekly lectures and also screens films and collaborates with other 5C events to cover all aspects of the chosen topic. All events are free and open to the public as well as to faculty and students in order to stimulate conversation within the Scripps community about these vital issues.

In addition to the public series, the Humanities Institute also offers students the opportunity to become more involved by applying to be a Junior Fellow.

Unfortunately, not many students realize this opportunity is open to them, nor do they know how to take advantage of it. Any Scripps student may apply, and the only requirement is a letter demonstrating interest in the chosen topic.

Junior Fellows bring their engagement with the topic to a whole new level because, in addition to attending the lectures and film screenings, Junior Fellows participate in class discussions with the invited speakers and have the opportunity to accompany guests to dinner in the village. This creates a very intimate learning environment in which class readings become increasingly important, because there is the opportunity to discuss ideas with the actual author. Recent guest visits have included Ayann Hirshi Ali, the author of Infidel, who came this semester, Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, who came to speak as part of last semester's Global Media theme and the band Dengue Fever.

This semester's theme is titled Muslim Women: Contemporary Realities and is headed by the current Humanities Institute Director and Professor, T. Kim-Trang Tran. Kim- Trang Tran decided to pursue the subject this particular semester because of the relevant speakers being brought to campus by programs through Malott and Gender & Women's Studies groups. Tran felt that these speakers would lend a broader scope to a current issue that she feels is not given enough consideration by our society.

She then began cementing a list of speakers from diverse backgrounds including law, health, economics, academia and theatre. Tran hoped that by gathering these diverse speakers together, it would be possible to begin examining culture as separate from religion. Tran believes that this separation between culture and religion is a crucial step in studying issues that arise for Muslim women in today's political and social climate. She also wants the program to emphasize the fact that Muslim women are—contrary to their portrayal in Western media—not a homogenous group, and that there is in fact a rich women's movement within Muslim communities with healthy self-awareness, conscious agency and the ability to critique itself and the greater culture.

This semester's Humanities Institute aims to bring an awareness of the contemporary realities of Muslim women to the Claremont community by providing an initiative for people to get information within a space that supports community interaction. By bringing together students, scholars, faculty and the public, Tran hopes to facilitate the types of meaningful conversations that have already gone on within this semester's institute.

The Humanities Institute is truly one of the less-appreciated on-campus opportunities that Scripps has to offer. Not only is it an integrated program with a focus on student interests, rather than established classes and subjects, it is also flexible to changing topics within our modern world. The topics chosen each semester depend on student participation, so ideas for upcoming institute series are always welcomed. The theme for Fall 2009 is still being shaped, but will follow the exploration of Secrets in a Democracy. Some questions for next semester's institute might include: How do secrets function within a democracy?, What kind of psychological implications do secrets have?

Applications for a Junior Fellow position for Fall 2009 will be available later this semester.