by Haley Burnside
A group of eight Manhattan College professors and administrators spent the first week of January in Bethlehem as they traveled to Palestine to work with Bethlehem University.
More specifically, their goal was to form and strengthen an academic partnership between the two colleges.
The trip consisted of meetings between faculty from MC and Bethlehem University to map out the possibilities of summer research and study abroad initiatives between the colleges.
In addition to discussing logistics of the partnership, the MC faculty members explored the campus and the surrounding city to gauge the benefits of sending students to Palestine.
Dr. Kerri Mulqueen, an English professor at MC, found that Bethlehem University provides a unique learning experience.
“An academic partnership between Manhattan College and Bethlehem University is valuable for students on both sides because it opens their worlds to include new realities, to integrate their experiences across many miles by a shared academic interest,” said Mulqueen in an email statement.
Mulqueen also noted more human elements that she took away from her trip to Palestine.
“Working closely with Palestinians disintegrates the monolith of ‘Palestinian’ that many of us have internalized from mainstream media,” said Mulqueen. “It humanizes Americans for them and Palestinians for us and reminds us all, as so many things do, that far more joins us than divides us.”
According to Dr. Marisa Lerer, the main reason Bethlehem University was chosen for a partnership is the Lasallian connection.
“University of Bethlehem is actually a Lasallian institution. Brother Jack Curran has been here at MC for about 2 or 3 years, but he used to work at University of Bethlehem,” said Lerer. “This partnership is just about bringing together Lasallian institutions of higher education to really benefit our students and enrich their education experience.”
Brother Jack Curran added that the purpose of the winter break meeting was mainly to explore the options for students and faculty to utilize the partnership.
“There are a number of possible outcomes,” said Brother Curran. “Having some students from Bethlehem University come to Manhattan College during this summer to be working together with Manhattan College students and faculty on some summer research projects.”
Brother Curran also mentioned other possibilities that the new partnership could provide.
“Having some students from Manhattan College go to Bethlehem University, possibly this summer, to study Arabic Language and Culture,” said Brother Curran. “Or having some Bethlehem University faculty partner with Manhattan College faculty in team teaching, perhaps using Google hangout to have video conference classes.”
The exact intended purpose of the partnership is still in the works. Dr. Cory Blad, another faculty member who attended the winter trip to Palestine, says that there are more factors to be considered before a solid plan for the partnership is complete.
“The timeline is basically unknown right now. We’re working on developing several partnerships both with Bethlehem University and local nonprofit organizations,” said Blad in an email statement. “The most probable short-term possibilities are likely going to center around the development of a LOVE trip or a Spring Break trip working with a local Palestinian organization planting olive trees with local farmers.”
The plans for study abroad are down the road, but there are some challenges to organizing a program that allows for students from the respective universities to study overseas long term.
“Actual study at Bethlehem University is difficult for several reasons (not the least of which is difficulty obtaining student visas), but we are working on options that will allow Manhattan College students to combine joint courses with Bethlehem University students and possibly include a short study abroad opportunity in Bethlehem and perhaps also host some Bethlehem students here in New York,” said Blad.
While the chance for MC students to travel to Palestine may be far in the future, the faculty was sure to take safety of the city into account during their trip. The issue of safety abroad is an important factor when creating academic partnerships, especially in this case.
Lerer acknowledged the specific safety issues some might have with travel to Palestine, but she was quick to dispel preconceived notions of visiting the Middle East.
“People were very generous with information there. I understand that Americans probably have misconceptions about Palestine, but that’s mostly based on misinformation or old news. I felt safe and welcomed during the entire trip,” said Lerer.
Mulqueen expressed similar thoughts on the safety of the location.
“Palestine offers an exemplary setting for study abroad and summer research work for a variety of factors,” said Mulqueen. “Personally, I never felt unsafe during our time in Palestine and was struck with the warmth and welcome we received from our Palestinian hosts.”
The partnership involves much more than just sending students from MC to Bethlehem University’s campus. The possibilities of the partnership are still being discussed and explored by faculty and administrators at the respective colleges.
In the meantime, Blad hopes that excitement about the partnership will build among students and faculty at both schools.
“While we have a lot to do in terms of planning, there are many possible opportunities and we’re hopeful we can generate interest in possible opportunities in Bethlehem for the near future.”