For the past year, IGR has had the wonderful fortune of hosting Dr. Manal Yazbak-Abu Ahmad, a visiting Fulbright Scholar from Nazareth, Israel. Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad is an Assistant Professor and Chair of the English Department at The College of Sakhnin for Teacher Education.
In her work in Israel, Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad holds a special interest in issues of diversity and Arab-Jewish relations. Due to the difficult political situation in her country, the polarization and segregation between Arabs and Jews in Israel continues to increase, and the society continues to become more fragmented and segregated. Six years ago, while living in the midst of these divisive opinions and issues, Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad and a colleague created a unique opportunity for connection and collaboration between Arab and Jewish teachers-in-training from two colleges.
Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad and her colleague from the David Yellin Academic College in Jerusalem, Dr. Aliza Yahav, partnered to start offering a dialogue-based course entitled Dealing with Diversity in the Classroom. This online, real-time course offers teachers-in-training from both colleges a chance to talk across Arab/Jewish differences in a respectful learning environment that demonstrates models of working with classroom diversity. The pilot year of the course was successful and it will be held for the seventh consecutive year this fall.
Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad is passionate about and committed to increasing healthy dialogue between Arabs and Jews. Two years ago, this commitment led to a desire to further her knowledge and skills in dialogue, and Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad applied for a Fulbright Fellowship.
I decided to apply for the Fulbright Fellowship because, for years, I’ve been wanting to take a more global perspective with my work and look for international connections. A year ago, this desire became very strong so I applied for the Fulbright and received four offers. After much correspondence with individuals from the four universities, I learned how similar my work is to IGR. I was also interested in learning more about the different form IGR’s Arab-Jewish dialogue course took from our course, so I felt this would be the perfect place to visit!
Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad arrived in the United States in the summer of 2014 and, after some traveling with her family, has since been involved in a multitude of learning, presentation, teaching, and research activities. The three goals she outlined for her fellowship were:
1) Learn about IGR and their model of intergroup dialogue.
2) Conduct research with IGR and the Arab/Jewish dialogue course.
3) Explore future opportunities for networking and collaboration with IGR.
In the past year, Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad has been fulfilling her goals by learning and sharing with faculty and staff from U-M and other colleges and universities across the country. She works most closely with IGR’s Adrienne Dessel, who coordinates IGR’s Arab-Jewish dialogue course. Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad's course, while following a different learning model, has many parallels with IGR’s course. Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad and Dr. Dessel have enjoyed comparing and contrasting the two courses. Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad notes that, despite some significant differences, both courses have the same primary goal of enabling students from Arab and Jewish identities to engage in dialogue across differences. Says Dr. Dessel:
Having Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad here with us this year as a Fulbright scholar brought a wealth of knowledge to our program about online teaching methods and using intergroup collaboration in pedagogy. She has also brought many benefits to our Arab/Jewish dialogue and research project. It has been tremendously enriching to all of us to have an international scholar working with us across many of our program activities and courses.
In her time with IGR, Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad has especially found it interesting to note the differences in Arab and Jewish student attitudes towards each other in the U.S. versus in Israel. She says:
It is interesting to see the difference between Arabs and Jews’ interactions in the U.S. versus Israel. In the U.S., Jews are more open to collaborate with Arabs without worrying about the political and social pressure. In Israel, it is getting more and more difficult due to the political tension.
This past year, Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad has also worked closely with IGR Lecturer Timothy Corvidae, who also teaches in the Center for Global and Intercultural Studies (CGIS). Together, they taught a course called Global Understanding. The course was comprised of Corvidae’s students and Yazbak-Abu Ahmad's students in Israel. They held 13 synchronous online meetings in which they discussed global issues such as identity, family, gender roles, bias awareness and multiple perspectives, and the environment. The course was a great success and participants reported that this course challenged existing stereotypes and opened their horizons to global collaboration.
Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad's year with IGR ends on July 31. During her last few day in the U.S., she plans on continuing her collaborations with IGR as well as continuing to connect with colleagues. When she returns to Israel, Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad plans to share her learning from her year abroad with her colleagues at home. She will also continue collaborating with U-M on one or more online courses.
IGR has tremendously enjoyed hosting Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad this past year and there is a warm mutual feeling of benefit and inspiration that has come from her visit to the U-M campus. Says Kelly Maxwell (Co-Director of IGR):
We are delighted Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad has spent that past year with us. Her presence has allowed us to collaborate in new ways and deepen our understanding of Arab-Jewish relationships here and in Palestine/Israel. She has made many valuable contributions to the work here and we hope we’ve been able to give her useful insight to IGR’s model of intergroup dialogue. We wish her the best for her return home and we look forward to continuing our collaborations with her.
For a great article about Dr. Yazbak-Abu Ahmad, and the experiences that have shaped her life and work, click here. If you are interested in contacting her either before or after she returns home, you may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.