Student government endorses new Arabic language program

Student Government passed a proposal that endorses an Arabic Language program Wednesday evening, following reports of significant student interest in such a program.
The proposal listed three Arabic courses in either Modern Standard Arabic or spoken colloquial Levantine Arabic — two introductory and one intermediate — and part-time or full-time faculty member for the program. The Arabic Language program now will go before the Wheaton College administration.
This proposal is modeled after a nearly identical one that passed in April 2015, largely the work of Educational Policies Language Representative sophomore Sean Lyon, former EVP of Educational Policies Abigail Canfield and former EVP of Global Engagement Anne Justine Houser.
Though the 2015 proposal also passed Student Government scrutiny, the plan met significant pushback when Wheaton administration inspected it.
Lyons told The Record that the administration informed him that though there was “value in the program,” they expressed concern over two main problems: funding the program and “trends of declining enrollment in current language offerings.”
Wednesday’s proposal focused on qualifying Arabic as a valuable language program, but runs the risk of tripping over a problem that last year’s proposal hit — a proposal submitted late in the spring semester has a lower chance of being approved by administration.
Current EVP of Global Engagement Tyler Garrett spearheaded this proposal, which has been his primary focus since he assumed the position.
According to Garrett, interest in the Arabic program has been mounting “for a couple of years,” and was corroborated by a recent Student Government poll that gauged enthusiasm for a new Arabic language program. In the March 2015 poll, 61 students out of the 730 respondents said that they would “definitely” register for a beginner-level Arabic class if Wheaton offered it. An additional 92 students answered with a 4/5 likelihood that they would register.
The idea gained more momentum in 2016 when sophomore Paul Vermeesch interviewed a group of students interested in the proposal for a video project. Among the students are sophomore Sean Lyon, sophomore Clementine Kane, sophomore Alouette Greenidge and sophomore Christina Festen. They envision the program as a language that would meet Wheaton’s language competency requirement and as a way to globalize the Wheaton education, according to sophomore Christina Festen.

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Clementine Kane. Photo credit Sarah Holcomb.

The proposal comes at a critical time for Wheaton, as the Billy Graham Center cut funding to the Muslim Ministry program in December 2015 due to a change in leadership. According to Roy Oksnevad, former director of the Muslim Ministry program, when Lon Allison left the position of executive director of the Billy Graham Center over two and a half years ago, major funders of the Billy Graham Center withdrew their funding because “they didn’t know what the new vision would be.”
As far as the direction of the Arabic program, sophomore Clementine Kane sees the purpose of Arabic learning at Wheaton going one of two ways — either as an academic, classical study of Islamic culture or as a conversational study in preparation for careers in international relations and ministry.
“The benefits are in almost any area that you would want to go into,” Kane said.
The Arabic program poses several logistical issues. The first and most obvious concerns are budgetary, but assistant professor of politics and international relations Michael McKoy mentioned another issue that the program may present. According to McKoy, trying to find “people who can teach Arabic who believe in the mission of Wheaton College” may be difficult since few qualified Arabic speakers are also Christian.
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Emily Miller. Photo credit Sarah Holcomb.

Some question the ability of the program to fulfill the mission of ministering to Muslims. When Oksnevad heard about the Arabic program proposal, he brought attention to a misconception regarding Muslim ministry. “It is important to realize that most Muslims do not speak or read Arabic. Only those in the Middle East speak Arabic,” Oksnevad wrote in an email. With a majority of Muslims now living in Indonesia and South Asia, it is questionable whether Arabic would be the best language to learn for Muslim ministry.
However, with the volume of students already expressing interest in the program, McKoy thinks that even more will be attracted to an Arabic program if it gets integrated into the Wheaton curriculum. “Once an option is offered, you’re going to see some interest,” McKoy said.

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