In an effort to establish an innovative academic program in the Middle East, the USC School of Cinematic Arts has officially reached an agreement to work with Effat University in Saudi Arabia for the development of an academic program in Media and Digital Production, SCA announced Tuesday.
USC has started the process of undergoing a major project on implementing media programs in Saudi Arabia, culminating in the announcement to collaborate with Effat University, an all-female school located in the heart of Saudi Arabia.
Beginning in September 2013, USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy will lead the project, developing the program’s curriculum. According to a statement from the School of Cinematic Arts, both USC and Effat “will work hand-in-hand to train mediamakers in the use of the moving image to convey stories, experiences and information to advance the scholarship of news media.”
IML Academic Director Holly Willis said the prospective program began when representatives of Effat University contacted USC about pursuing a curriculum in relation to the evolving digital age.
“They were interested in pursuing a curriculum that would not only be a mix of digital story-telling and journalism, but also thinking more broadly about digital media, including game design and immersive media,” Willis said.
Willis explained that the mission of this collaboration is to help people abroad become more digitally literate, especially at a time when technology is booming.
“The main goal of the program is to create an undergraduate curriculum for the women who attend Effat University in order to help the students become skilled in communicating with diverse forms of media,” Willis said.
Echoing Willis, USC’s Alan Baker, associate dean for international projects, said the program’s main purpose is to train students to get more practical digital media experience.
“The primary goal is to train the young women in various areas of multimedia so that they will have professional opportunities when they graduate,” Baker said. “It will give them an enormous amount of skills that they could use to work in a variety of areas in both electronic and print media.”
Effat University has welcomed the collaboration with open arms. Her Royal Highness Princess Lolowah bint Faisal Al Saud explained the significance of this collaboration as a vitally important step forward in keeping up with the digital age, according to a press release.
“It is very important to us, as a very old country, to be working with something new. We have boosted education to a very high level and I know how important this is to the future,” Al Saud said.
Many USC students were equally excited about collaborating with an all-female school.
“I think it’s awesome,” Elizabeth Sebastian, a sophomore majoring in critical studies, said. “This says so much about how women are just as important and talented as men and are just as helpful in society.”
Shannon Currie, a junior majoring in psychology with a minor in cinematic arts, however, had concerns about safety but believes USC has taken that factor into consideration.
“I trust that USC established a program that is safe and thought-out,” Currie said.
“I don’t think they’d do something like this unless they’ve gotten the grasp of what the ramifications would be.”
These concerns, however, remain an issue for the school, as journalism can often carry negative connotations in the Middle East.
An expert in the politics and culture of the Middle East, professor of international relations Laurie Brand, emphasized the concerns USC must take into consideration to preserve academic freedom for the program’s students and faculty.
“There aren’t as many protections for students and faculty over there as compared to here,” Brand said. “Academic freedom in the region is tentative at best.”
At this early point of developing the program, however, administrators are focused on developing the curriculum for the women of Effat University.
Willis said they hope to forge an innovative collaboration where both students and faculty gain from the two-way communication between USC and Effat University.
“We’re learning as much from our students in the sense of global leadership as they’re learning from us,” said Willis.