Giving, Uniting, Nurturing

Rula

Champlain's Fulbright Scholar Rula Quawas

On August 10, 2013, Champlain's first Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence arrived on campus. Rula Quawas, native to Jordan, first heard about Champlain College through an email she received while she was teaching at the University of Jordan (UJ). Gary Scudder, Core professor, reached out to the faculty members in the English department at UJ about the Global Modules program, an Internet-facilitated dialogue that connects students across the globe on a variety of contemporary global issues and cultural explorations.

"At first I didn't respond to the email because I don't think of myself as a tech person, but the mission of the Global Modules is very close to my heart. It was all about building bridges between young people in the East and the West and teaching diversity," Quawas said.

Scudder visited the UJ campus in Amman and met with Quawas and the other professors. He talked about Champlain, and when Core Division Dean Betsy Beaulieu suggested that Quawas come to the Burlington campus as a Scholar-in-Residence, she jumped at the idea. "And here I am," Quawas laughed.

Quawas came to Champlain for one year as a Fulbright Scholar, but her impact on the College community will be apparent for years to come. "Rula Quawas has been an amazing addition to the Core Division this year," said Beaulieu.  "Her sharp intellect, bubbly personality, and vast array of life experiences combine to offer a rich perspective on the world that she freely shares with her colleagues and her students.  She encourages all of us to confront life's big questions with courage and to embrace the work joyfully, and in that way she is the consummate educator."

Having put students first, Quawas goes above and beyond her role as a professor and impacts the lives of her students. Inspired by her encouraging students, Quawas has brought her background in feminist theory and literature and her international experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, to Champlain's third-year Core courses. "Students have told me I've changed their lives, but sometimes you can't believe everything they say," she said humbly. "Students have said they've taken my courses and have been encouraged and inspired to think differently, to see through different lenses."

hamsa handsShe's spoken many times for the Champlain community, with her most recent speech being in March. In October, she gave multiple speeches about the book Arab Women Writers, which she uses as a textbook in her Core 330 course. She's also talked about the Arab feminist movement and her personal experiences. She has had the opportunity to travel the United States and speak at various schools, from Ithaca College in New York, to Duke University in North Carolina, to Portland Community College in Oregon. She has also spoken at conferences in Minnesota and New Orleans as the cofounder of a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Quawas also impacted the campus community; in particular, she has been a huge help in the restructuring of the third-year COR-330 courses. Previously, the COR-330 courses were unified by a geographical region, like China or the Middle East. In the fall 2014 semester, students will be able to take courses focused on other areas around the globe and will be asked to make connections between the different parts of the world they are learning about.

"Rula has played a big role in identifying the key skills and concepts that are necessary for students to do that kind of intellectual work," said Adam Rosenblatt, assistant dean of the Institute of Global Engagement and an assistant professor in the Core Division. "She has helped us [the COR-330 Revision Committee] determine what kinds of writing should be a part of that process. We were really inspired by the blogs Rula kept with her students in Jordan, and like her idea of a 'mosaic narrative,' where students create individual pieces of writing that culminate in a much larger story."

Quawas came to Champlain to be the campus' first Fulbright Scholar, but she has paved the way for many more to follow. 

"It means a lot to me to be Champlain's first Fulbright," she said. "You know when you carve a space, and when I go home and tell my friends and family about my experience, I think Champlain will continue to fill the space. I see the bridge for more to follow. I can close my eyes and ask myself, 'Will the next Fulbright like the cabin behind Perry Hall?'"

For the future, many hope that Quawas will not be the only Fulbright Scholar to hold residence on campus. Rosenblatt commented, saying, "In my role as the director of the Institute of Global Engagement, I see that Rula has hugely impacted the work of global education at Champlain. She is unique and irreplaceable, but she has impacted the way professors will teach education for years to come. Because of our great experience with Rula here, I want to put a further emphasis on the College having faculty members from other locations around the globe."

And although Quawas has been known to be humble, she knows the impact she's made on the College as well. "I have to thank Champlain a lot because they believed in someone from a different country. I think Champlain will become a beehive of Fulbrights in the future."

Sabbatical Leave

While Champlain's Fulbright Scholar for the  2013-14 academic year, she has been on sabbatical leave from the University of Jordan. As a tenured faculty member, she has the ability to go on leave without pay for up to four years. Many of her colleagues have gone on leave to Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. Quawas is not quite sure where the road will take her after May, but the possibility remains she could stay at Champlain for another year to work on a research project dealing with the unique issue of "madness."

"Everywhere when women go against the grain and speak up, they are labeled as mad or hysterical," explained Quawas. "Women have been put in asylums for speaking their mind, like Bertha from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre."

Quawas wants to reconceptualize the concept of madness and its relations to Arab writers, and her point of entry for the topic is through the work of Jordanian-British writer Fadia Faqir in her book Pillars of Salt. "In Arabic, women are called majnouneh: loony. It's become a large issue. Men can go to court and 'prove' that their sisters are insane to rob them of their inheritance. It's easy, so easy, to call a woman mad in Arab culture, but it is found in Western traditions as well."

The topic of madness strikes a nerve for Quawas, as she reveals that she was called majnouneh, among other bad words, for supporting and encouraging her students' film project  on sexual harassment. "Sometimes I was called this laughingly, which is worse; 'injanet,' she is mad, they would say. My students came to me with a list of a hundred examples and I censored it and still...majnouneh," she sighed, shaking her head.

Background

Quawas never expected to be an educator; she had different interests as a teenager. "When I was applying to schools, I wanted to study geography," she said. "Most people who study English do it to better their speech and writing. I already thought mine was good, but all my friends were going into that major, so I did too, and I don't regret it."

Quawas completed her Bachelor's in English Literature and Language in Jordan, then went on to receive her Master's and Ph.D in Women Writers and Feminist Theory through her studies in Jordan, Scotland, and at the University of Texas. For her, studying English wasn't just a degree, but it quickly became a passion. "It's not just about language," she explains, "It's about ideas, thoughts, lessons, your feelings; it's about how to live life. Studying English, of course, improves your language, but when you read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Whitman, Dickinson, you realize that language is just the icing on the cake. These authors teach you how to live life."

Not only has Quawas studied literature, but she is author of two books, multiple essays, and writes poetry and meditations in her spare time. She is the recipient of the Distinguished International Scholar Award from the University of Texas.

"I was in Texas on scholarship, and with the scholarship you need to keep a very good GPA," Quawas explained. While she was completing her Ph.D., Quawas was active on campus. She organized conferences, wrote and published a paper on the book Wieland from the feminist point of view, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. However, without her family there for support, being honored wasn't the same. "I didn't think it was a big deal, but it is. Not many people get it. Now I have the award in my office back home," she said proudly.

Last year Quawas was nominated for the Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award for a video her students posted on YouTube as part of a class project. "I didn't win, but the biggest award to receive is when you help others co-create their lives; when you see them grow wings."

Quawas was referring to her four female students who "came to her with a spark in their eyes" and asked permission to create a video about the sexual harassment they hear on a day to day basis. "Someone who has found her voice and is using it is the best reward as an educator." Quawas expressed the importance of persistence.

Due to the role she had in and support of that student video, Quawas was removed from her position as dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Jordan. After public threats from colleagues were made toward her as a result of the project, Quawas had personal security escorts on campus for three weeks. One comment read, 'had she been a Muslim, she wouldn't have done that. She doesn't have morals, and if you see her, throw acid water on her.'

Quawas said that being the dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, especially as a woman, was a big position. "I was relieved to be a professor again," she said. The dean is responsible for 5,000 students and of one of the largest faculties in the school. Professors from all over the world report to the dean, sharing a multitude of ideas to modify specific courses they instruct. In her former role as dean, Quawas knew what to do and what not to do. "I pushed the envelope because the kids are so different in this generation, but now I'm on the blacklist, so even if there's a new president of the University, I could never be dean again. It's good. I don't want it."

She seemed to be conflicted; her memories as dean stemming feelings of happiness and sadness. "I lied," she admitted. "I'm still in pain." Quawas had an open-door policy for her students, faculty and staff. "I wanted to be a part of their lives. I still want to be dean, but I was told I was too American. It's been over two years."

"You know what hurt the most?" She asked. "The President told me: 'I don't want to let you go, but I have to.'"

By Abigail Clark: Abigail Clark is a 2013 graduate of the Professional Writing program. Clark traveled to Jordan in March 2013, allowing her to relate to Quawas' stories. A wine enthusiast and globe trotter, she aspires to be a travel writer. Currently, Clark works in the College's Marketing Department and at Shelburne Vineyard.