Earlham College's Quaker Roots Spur Internationalization

By Connell, Christopher | International Educator, July/August 2007 | Go to article overview

Earlham College's Quaker Roots Spur Internationalization


Connell, Christopher, International Educator


MANY LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES founded in colonial times and the century after U.S. independence jettisoned their founders' religiosity, but not Earlham College. Earlham is the proud bearer of a Quaker heritage in Indiana that began after farmers who could no longer abide slavery migrated from North Carolina to the Northwest Territory in the early 180Os. Soon the Quaker population of Richmond, Indiana, rivaled Philadelphia's. The Indiana Friends in 1847 established a boarding school that a dozen years later became Earlham College-named for the home of a prominent Quaker minister in England and pronounced with a silent h (like Durham).

Earlham is still imbued with Quakerism. The 100-member faculty makes decisions not by vote but by seeking consensus on issues small and large. Their biweekly meetings in unadorned Stout Meetinghouse are led not by the president or deans, but a by clerk of the faculty chosen by his or her peers. President Doug Bennett also presides over a Quaker seminary, the Earlham School of Religion. Upwards of a quarter of the faculty and 15 percent of the students are Quakers, although those are only estimates. Len Clark, provost and academic dean, once tried to count the Quakers on the faculty for the board of trustees. "But when you say, 'Now, are you actually a Quaker?' Quakers tend to answer not 'Yes' or 'No,' but 'Why would you want to know that?'" Clark said. "It's sort of like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: The numbers change if you try to count them. I gave up."

A former president, Tom Jones, once described Earlham as "a cross between a Friends meeting and a scientific laboratory' It sends graduates in large numbers on to Ph.D.s in biology, the life sciences, and sociology, as well as other fields. The number of languages it teaches is not extensive, but large numbers of students achieve proficiency in Spanish, French, German, or Japanese. It recently added classes in Arabic, and offers Latin and ancient Greek as well. Every student must demonstrate command of a second language as a prerequisite for graduation.

The newest major is comparative languages and linguistics, requiring advanced study in at least two languages and study abroad. It is an institution engaged in what Bennett calls "a full court press on internationalization," from the emphasis on study abroad to international material threaded throughout the curriculum. "It's not just in the French department and the history department, it's everywhere," said Bennett.

Earlham boasts a daring array of semester-long education abroad opportunities that entice most of the 1,200 undergraduates to other parts of the world. To this experience some students add a May term. Earlham offered a semester-long program in Jerusalem from 1982 to 2000, when strife in the Middle East and a State Department travel advisory forced it into hiatus; the college hopes to restart the program in Amman, Jordan. Civil unrest also forced Earlham to relocate a signature program from Kenya to Tanzania in 2003-2004. Other off-the-beaten-path education abroad choices include:

* NORTHERN IRELAND. An exploration of the long religious and social conflict in Northern Ireland. Students stay with families in Belfast and Derry and learn the history of "The Troubles" as well as the politics and culture of the six Ulster counties that remained under British rule when the Republic of Ireland gained independence in 1921.

* U.S.-MEXICO BORDER. Students electing this program, located in the neighboring cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, are immersed in learning how such critical issues as immigration, free trade, human rights, and the environment play out in the border region.

* SOUTH ASIA. Launched in 2005, this ambitious program takes students to Chennai, India, and Kandy, Sri Lanka, to study economics, culture, and conflicts on the subcontinent.

* JAPAN. Studies in Cross-Cultural Education (SICE) program sends students each fall to study Japanese at Iwate University in Morioka and assist in local middle and high school English classrooms. …

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