A little over a decade ago, nine Ball State University faculty members embarked on a three-year partnership with the Area Study Centre for Africa, North, and South America at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad, Pakistan. There was an emphasis at the time on rebuilding and strengthening relationships between the United States and countries in the Middle East.
Dr. David Roof, associate professor of Educational Studies, who has been a part of this endeavor from its beginning, credits former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and a bipartisan bill with former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry for providing legislation that funded the foreign diplomacy efforts.
“So much of our relationship with Pakistan following 9-11 was defined militarily or through this international security framework, which I understand, but I think what got lost was the personal relationships, the connections, and the academic exchanges,” said Dr. Roof. “So this [project] was a reorientation toward rebuilding some of that connection with Pakistan.”
The collaboration focused on strengthening the American Studies program through faculty and student exchange, curriculum and faculty development, joint research, and research training. The two-way relationship allowed Pakistani staff and students to travel to the United States and for Ball State faculty to travel to Pakistan for training and on-site needs assessment and research. The program also promoted people-to-people ties, enabling American and Pakistani faculty to connect, exchange knowledge, and build long-lasting connections.
With the aid of a $1 million grant from the University Partnerships Grants Program (UPGP), the educators sought to provide postgraduate programs in American Studies in the areas of government and politics, international relations, art, history, literature, research methodology, and the study of religion in the United States. The UPGP is funded by the United States government and administered by the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan.
“This generous grant through the U.S. State Department had a lot to do with people-to-people connections,” said Dr. Elizabeth Agnew, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and director of Women’s and Gender Studies. “And, you know, the lack of cultural knowledge or misattribution of understandings can really be shifted by the personal or interpersonal kind of relationships among graduate students and scholars.
“I found it fascinating to go there,” she continued. “When you’re in a country with constitutional provisions that address the range of people’s freedoms in terms of speaking, acting, and teaching, and Islam is considered the national religion, it’s really eye-opening.”
The team was led by principal investigator Kenneth Holland, former director of the Ball State University Center for International Development, and co-investigator Dr. Lawrence Gerstein, George & Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Psychology and director for the Center for Peace & Conflict Studies. The group of educators from Ball State visited Pakistan twice in 2012 and once in 2015. They looked at their institutions, their libraries, and other resources to get a sense of what sort of support and training might be needed.
On their first visit—just after Hurricane Sandy—Dr. Gerstein and the team were seated at a restaurant and were taken aback by the concern the waiter displayed, asking about their families when he learned they were from the United States. They were consistently surprised by the hospitality they were shown on the trip.
Then, each Summer, for the next three years, around 16 Pakistani graduate students and a faculty mentor came to the United States for six weeks and were housed on the Ball State campus. As American Studies majors, it was beneficial for them to see the culture, access libraries and resources that are hard to find at home and experience American life for themselves. Students also had the opportunity to visit New York City during their visit.
“We thought they were going to be blown away by all the opportunities and cool things to see in New York,” recalled Dr. Roof. “But they returned to Muncie and said, ‘New York is for vacation, but Indiana’s like home.’ They really liked Ball State, the friendliness, and the pace of life here.”
The partnership was so successful and mutually beneficial that nearly all faculty involved jumped at the chance to continue when new grants were awarded in 2021 and 2022 to expand their work—though this time on a smaller scale. With two additional $50,000 grants, they were excited to resume their work with Quaid-i-Azam, six other Pakistani public universities, and four women’s universities to continue with their cross-cultural exchange.
Goals for this second partnership included extending the knowledge gained from the previous collaboration to several other universities, strengthening bachelor’s and master’s programs, encouraging collaborative research, and publication of that research after the grant’s conclusion.
“When this opportunity came up again, I jumped on it,” said Christine Satory, associate professor of Art. “I feel very privileged in a lot of ways because with the arts, we not only see the world differently, but we tend to express and teach differently.
“Muslim countries do not use images in their artwork. Usually, it’s calligraphy or pattern,” she continued. “The whole concept of teaching about the fundamentals of art, how different shapes and colors have different meanings, how you purposely script whatever you’re doing—it’s always coming from one person’s interpretation. They didn’t know, and they were fascinated. I couldn’t wait to continue the work, and it’s been wonderful.”
Because of the smaller scale of this project continuation and provisions put in place due to COVID-19, the universities involved had to meet virtually with Ball State for this continued work. It took a great effort to pull off, given the number of universities involved, the ability to gather, and the time difference.
“One of the challenges we faced was the time difference to accommodate scholars in Pakistan,” said Dr. Agnew. “But that also made it all the more rewarding when we were able to accomplish it.
“Many faculty and staff were women working at women’s universities who could not travel late at night, because of their families and because of safety and security issues,” she continued. “Our sessions needed to be mid-morning for them, and for us, that meant midnight or one in the morning.”
The projects concluded in December with more than 238 hours of participant interaction in workshops, seminars, and mentoring sessions. An additional 247 hours were spent developing the curriculum and syllabi for the program. Over the last few months, the universities involved have strengthened the targeted degree programs—looking into the possibility of offering an American Studies major. Faculty have better equipped themselves to teach in the targeted programs.
“The collaboration between Ball State and QAU, and the inclusion of other Pakistani universities with this latest project has opened up many opportunities for faculty to conduct, present, and publish their research going forward,” Dr. Gerstein said. “We formed the Pakistan Association for American Studies, which includes membership of all project participants from both grants and the QAU and BSU teams. We will conduct annual seminars, hold conferences/symposia, and publish special issues of the Pakistan Journal of American Studies.
“These meaningful exchanges fostered mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration between the peoples of the U.S. and Pakistan, and we hope to continue this partnership,” he added.
Dr. Gerstein also confirmed the group has applied for an Alumni Engagement and Innovation Fund grant to continue their work.
Ball State University’s Current and Former Faculty Involved in All Three Projects
- Dr. Lawrence H. Gerstein, George & Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Psychology; director of the Center for Peace & Conflict Studies at Ball State University
- Dr. Steven Hall, associate professor of Political Science
- James Connolly, George & Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of History and Director Center Middletown Studies
- Dr. Elizabeth Agnew, professor of Religious Studies and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies
- Christine Satory, associate professor of Art
- Dr. David Roof, associate professor of Educational Studies
- Suzanne Rice, former assistant dean for Public Services (Bracken Library)
- Dr. Kenneth Holland, dean Jindal Global Law School – India, former director, Ball State University Center for International Development
- Dr. Maria Staton, instructor at the University of Maryland – Global Campus, Japan, former assistant professor in the English Department at Ball State University