USC is in the process of implementing an Iranian Studies Initiative that will begin by offering Persian language courses in Fall 2011, continuing its quest to be a more global university.
Because Los Angeles is home to one of the largest Iranian populations outside of Iran, USC is expanding its curriculum to accommodate changes in student demand and the broader global environment, according to Bita Milanian, the executive director of the Farhang Foundation, the Iranian-American heritage foundation of Southern California that approached USC about creating this program.
The Iranian Studies Initiative will include three phases. The first phase is introducing Persian Language courses, which will begin next fall.
The second will include a minor in Iranian Studies and the third will entail adding a major. According to Milanian, the second and third phase of the initiative will be completed depending on when they receive funds from donors.
By adding Persian language classes, followed by a major and minor in Iranian Studies, both the university and the Farhang Foundation hope to create a more globally-aware student body.
“As the Iranian community of Southern California region grows, it becomes that much more necessary to offer educational opportunities in the areas of Persian language and Iranian Studies,” Milanian said.
The curriculum for the major and minor in Iranian studies is currently in development under the guidance of Kevin Van Bladel, a professor of classics and Middle East studies, and Bruce Zuckerman, director of the Religion department.
Van Bladel currently teaches courses on ancient and medieval Iran and has found students are actively asking for more of these courses. Zuckerman specializes in documenting and distributing Arabic texts.
“These new [language] courses will provide a deeper specialization and expertise with respect to one of the world’s most ancient and important cultures, in a way that illuminates contemporary issues of great global importance,” said Howard Gillman, dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.
The Iranian Studies initiative at USC is not the first of its kind in the area, as Iranian Studies programs at UCLA and UCSB are already in full swing. UCLA began its Iranian Studies programs almost 20 years ago while UCSB recently acquired its own program within the last five years.
“The existence of these centers and their very active programs suggest that there is a demand for Iranian Studies in this region,” Milanian said.
Through the Persian language classes and the eventual addition of a minor and major, USC is moving toward better representing the Iranian culture among the university’s community, according to Milanian.
“With such an overwhelming presence, the lack of Persian language classes and any Iranian Studies program at the university seemed unjustifiable,” Milanian said. “As the Iranian community of Southern California region grows, it becomes that much more necessary to offer educational opportunities in the areas of Persian language and Iranian Studies.”
Hoda Assadian, a graduate student studying industrial engineering and officer for the Iranian Graduate Students Association, is enthusiastic about the new program.
“We have a big community here in L.A. and we have a lot of second generation kids who are really not aware of the culture,” Assadian wrote in an e-mail. “Not only is the initiative seen as a way to inform, but also as a way to unite those who are Iranian or interested in the rich 3,000 year old culture.”
The IGSA has played a large part in raising awareness about the new program by reaching out to both Iranian and non-Iranian students.
Assadian said a program like USC’s is important in trying to fight the misconceptions about Iran.
“The Iran we see now is not a true picture of what we are, having these studies will help tell what the Iranian culture is really about,” Assadian said.
Kassie Simmons, an undeclared freshman, said she would definitely take advantage of Persian language courses that will be offered next fall.
“Learning the basics of Iranian culture starting from the language can satisfy my interest in the foreign aspects of the world, especially the Middle East,” Simmons said.