Confluencenter Funds Interdisciplinary Research With Local, Global Impact

It was a student's story that inspired Orhon Myadar's research project, "Dismantling Fear: Voices from Tucson’s Refugee Community," one of three projects funded by the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry's 2016-2017 Faculty Collaboration Grants program.

A young man, who graduated from the UA with honors, came to Tucson as a refugee after fleeing the Somali civil war when he was a young child.

"His extraordinary story of trauma, pain and perseverance inspired me to uncover and share stories of other refugees in Tucson," said Myadar, a political geographer and an assistant professor in the School of Geography and Development.

Myadar is working with collaborators to collect oral histories of Tucson's refugee communities in order to provide a platform for refugee voices.

This year's Confluencenter grants total more than $40,000 and will support the work of 11 researchers from 11 different departments and six different colleges.

The funding is awarded annually to advance interdisciplinary research at the UA, a primary goal of the Never Settle plan. 

The other two projects receiving funding will address the development of an effective Arabic language planning model in Egypt and ways to improve cross-cultural research using multilingual research instruments and materials.

"These ambitious and cross-disciplinary projects are the definition of what the Confluencenter was created to do, and that is to serve as a campuswide research institute dedicated to innovative inquiry across all disciplines,” said Javier D. Durán, director of the Confluencenter.

"These scholars are tackling complex issues related to language preservation and pedagogy, cultural and linguistic translation and refugee narratives," Durán said. "We are happy to support such important work and are looking forward to an amazing collection of results."

Telling Refugees' Stories

Myadar and Lisa Hochtritt, assistant professor of art education, are working to collect oral histories of Tucson's refugee communities. To help carry out the work documenting Tucson's refugee stories, Myadar's and Hochtritt’s team includes Najwa Nabti, director of the James E. Roger's College of Law's Undergraduate Law and Master of Legal Studies Programs, and Stephanie Troutman, assistant professor of English and director of the Southern Arizona Writing Project.

Myadar studies how "borders of belonging or exclusion shift as political regimes change and how these fluid borders shape everyday struggles of underserved and marginalized individuals and communities."  

Between the global refugee crisis and the political fear-mongering surrounding acceptance of refugees to the U.S. and Arizona, this project is significant and timely. It aims to increase awareness of the reality of refugee resettlement in Tucson and highlight the humanity of refugees who have already settled in the city.

Reinstating Arabic in Egypt

A project titled "Arabic Language Planning in Egypt: An Interdisciplinary Approach" will be led by Mahmoud Azaz, assistant professor of Arabic language and linguistics, with co-director Olga Bever, assistant research professor and director of the Environmental Media Research Initiative, and collaborator Mary Carol Combs, associate professor of teaching, learning and sociocultural studies.

Azaz's team will address the development of an effective Arabic language planning model in Egypt to help combat the effects of globalization on Arabic.

Azaz explains that "sweeping globalization processes," such as the introduction of westernized educational systems, have created an alarming reality in which the status of modern standard Arabic, the variety that is understood all across the Middle East and North Africa, is seriously dwindling.

"Englishization" and "dialectization" are discreetly penetrating the cultural domains in substantial ways, even as Middle East and North Africa countries, including Egypt, have spent the last five decades working toward reinstating standard Arabic, Azaz explained.

Examples of globalization in Egypt affecting Arabic, Azaz said, include the migration of workers from different parts of the world and the movement of foreign businesses and multinational companies – companies run mostly in English.

Also, the introduction of westernized educational systems channeled in international language and private schools, where English is mostly used as the language of instruction, has posed another challenge, Azaz explained. 

"It is important to refer to the fact that the Arabic sociolinguistic situation is known for its complex 'diglossic' nature, which means that standard Arabic and native dialects are used side by side, with each variety having certain functions in certain contexts of use," he said.

Egyptian dialect is not taught in schools because it is acquired at home. Although the basics of standard Arabic are taught in schools and in colleges, both public and private, the existing curricula have long been critiqued.

"To better understand this complex reality and contribute to changing it, this collaborative project offers an adequate language-planning model that reinstates standard Arabic in Egypt," Azaz said. "In achieving this aim, we will enhance existing interdisciplinary research that bridges language policy, educational planning and language pedagogy."

Improving Research With Multilingual Tools

Sonia Colina, UA Spanish and Portuguese professor, and Anna O'Leary, associate professor and head of the Department of Mexican American Studies, were awarded funding for their project "Language Mediation and Translation for Global Research: A Resource Center."

They are working with collaborators Nicole Marrone, an assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences, and Maia Ingram, deputy director of the Arizona Prevention Research Center in the College of Public Health's Department of Community, Environment and Policy.

The researchers are looking to improve how cross-cultural research projects use multilingual research instruments and materials.

By assessing the need for culturally and linguistically adequate research instruments in global research with the most recent information in translation studies and related fields, this project builds institutional capacity to assist researchers with project-specific cross-cultural and linguistic needs. 

The project, Colina said, aims to create a center where non-humanities researchers can get connected with and bring in humanities and language scholars into traditional science research.

For instance, if a researcher needs to evaluate the quality/functionality of math assessments administered by a school district to limited English proficient students with instructions in languages other than English, but does not know how to evaluate/assess the non-English materials and whether those materials work as intended, the resource center can provide guidance and expert advice for the project.

"The team aims to develop a model that can be funded by external sources and replicated at other universities that will also serve to usher in an innovative-forward looking role for the humanities in the research-intensive university," Colina said.

The Confluencenter also awarded $45,000 to its 2016-2017 Graduate Fellows:

  • Sonia Arellano and Elizabeth Bentley, who are both studying English
  • Dongchen Hou in East Asian studies
  • Emrah Karakus, Alex Karaman and Elizabeth Kinnamon, all students in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies
  • Jonathan Marquis in the School of Art
  • Maria Montenegro in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese
  • Christian Ruvalcaba of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching

Written by Jamie ManserUA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry

Original story here

Published Date: 

05/27/2016 - 9:00am