Despite 5C popularity, relevance of Fulbright in question
This month, students across the 5Cs have will receive notification of their acceptance or rejection from the Fulbright Program, a U.S. government sponsored exchange program which funds recipients to study, conduct research, or teach abroad. The program operates in over 155 countries, and has funded approximately 307,000 individuals over the past six and a half decades. As our fellow classmates come one step closer to participating in next year’s Fulbright Program, we should reflect on the founding goals and relevance of a half-century old program in today’s geopolitical atmosphere.
In the words of Senator J. William Fulbright, “The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs, and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.” Signed into law by President Truman in 1946, the Fulbright Program began in the wake of World War II, as the United States faced pressures to establish itself as a world hegemon and promote a wider understanding of its founding principles and character. Congress was keen on avoiding the potential carnage of a World War III and believed that educational exchanges would foster a community of nations reluctant to take up arms against each other.
After successful exchanges in Western European countries, the Fulbright Program expanded to regions of Asia as well as Latin America. A focus on American studies and English instruction encourages an increase in international knowledge of the United States and its culture. Inherent in the exchanges are the social interactions grantees experience on a day-to-day basis; the program relies on this human interaction to build and strengthen a global net of camaraderie, which diminishes the risk of cultural ignorance and misunderstanding. Although World War II may appear long past to young adults today, the risk of misunderstanding foreign peoples, leading to xenophobic and uninformed decision-making, remains a threat to international harmony. The recent rise of Islamophobia in America is an example of how harmful stereotypes can be perpetuated about a country, region, or group of people.
Professor Lee Skinner, the Fulbright advisor for CMC, spoke with the Port Side about the strengths and character of Fulbright today. She noted, “[Fulbright] enriches the individual as well as the community abroad and at home, and people get to benefit from that knowledge and experience.” Skinner added that “with Fulbright they really stress that you have a long-standing passion for all things international.” This of course does not imply that applicants are limited to International Relations majors; this year applications came from such varied disciplines as economics, literature, language, and philosophy.
Among the positive attributes of Fulbright are points of contention that question the contemporary relevance and ultimate impact of the program, which may deter potential applicants from applying. Erica Bellman CMC ’12 stated that though she “would love the opportunity to live and work abroad,” conducting research on a specific topic abroad in order to establish mutual understanding “doesn’t seem like a cohesive mission.”
One of this year’s Fulbright finalists, Olivia Uranga CMC ‘12, submitted an application to teach English in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. As a Middle Eastern Studies and Government major, Olivia spent a semester studying abroad in Oman, and hopes that by living and working in Bahrain she can continue perfecting her Arabic and become immersed once again in Middle Eastern culture. In her opinion, “any organization that brings two cultures together is invaluable.”
In recent years, the Claremont Colleges have performed exceptionally well in Fulbright acceptances. Pitzer College has been ranked #1 by the Chronicle of Higher Education as the top producer of Fulbright fellows among U.S. liberal arts colleges for the past eight years. Approximately a quarter of Pitzer students apply for fellowships each year, and about a quarter of these applicants receive them – last year 19 Pitzer students accepted Fulbright scholarships. The other 5Cs also performed well in the 2010-2011 Fulbright cycle, with awards granted to 15 students from Pomona, three from CMC, eight from Scripps, and one from Harvey Mudd.
On campus and abroad, debate continues over the contemporary relevance of the Fulbright Program. However, positive feedback received from past Fulbright participants and the enthusiasm of current applicants indicates a healthy trajectory of the program into the future. The effects on the international community are difficult to tangibly evaluate, but the fact that misconceptions of foreign cultures remain today reinforces the necessity of programs that encourage bilateral cooperation and mutual understanding.