UW News

December 12, 2005

Ford Foundation grant focuses on Southeast Asian American students, communities

The Ford Foundation has selected the University of Washington as one of 27 higher education institutions to receive $100,000 grants for projects that promote academic freedom and constructive dialogue on campus.

The UW’s project will focus on Southeast Asian American undergraduate students and Seattle’s Southeast Asian American communities. The grant, which will extend over two years, will enable the UW to create an integrated program of five innovative teaching workshops, six new team-taught courses, five mediated student dialogues, and a performance at the end of the grant period. The emphasis throughout will be on encouraging dialogue through a series of techniques ranging from oral history and dramatic reenactments to video-conferencing and e-learning, according to Laurie Sears and Francisco Benitez, UW faculty who will direct the project.

Sears is a professor of history and directs the Southeast Asia Center of the Jackson School of International Studies. Benitez is an assistant professor of comparative literature. The project will be housed in the UW’s Simpson Center for the Humanities.

They estimate that the new classes and other elements of the Engaging Southeast Asian American Pluralism in Seattle project will reach out to 4,500 students per year, starting in the spring semester of 2006.

Seattle has the fifth largest Asian American population in the continental United States and Asian American students now make up nearly 25 percent of the UW student body. A sizeable portion of these students represent diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. These students, according to Sears and Benitez, are now interested in learning languages, studying histories and literatures and finding ways to connect their Southeast Asian pasts with their Asia American futures.

“With this project we hope not only to create a space where students feel free to express their ideas and opinions, but also to help students find their voices and teach faculty how to listen to those voices,” said Sears and Benitez.”

The UW grant is part of the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues initiative, created in response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities. The goal is to help institutions address this challenge through academic and campus programs that enrich learning, encourage new scholarship and engage students and faculty in constructive dialogue about contentious political, religious, racial and cultural issues.

Difficult Dialogues is part of a broader, $12 million effort by the Ford Foundation to understand and combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry in the United States and Europe. It builds on the foundation’s history of supporting efforts by colleges and universities to foster more inclusive campus environments and to engage effectively with the growing racial, religious and ethnic diversity of their student bodies.


For more information, contact Sears at (206) 543-5790 or lsears@u.washington.edu  or Benitez at (206) 543-5436 or jfbb@u.washington.edu  

For more information on the Difficult Dialogues initiative and a complete list of awardees, visit: http://www.fordfound.org/news/more/dialogues/index.cfm