As I begin my new role as the Center for the Middle East & Islamic Studies director, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for providing me with the opportunity to serve.
Thanks to Carl (Ernst) and Charlie (Kurzman)’s efforts over the past two decades, the center is one of the strongest in the country; and for that, I am grateful to them. Charlie has graciously accepted to serve as the director of the expanded North Carolina Consortium of Middle East Studies, so that I can get established and strengthen the center as an intellectual hub where we can all thrive and enjoy.
For those who do not know me, I look forward to meeting you. Until then, here’s a brief introduction. My home department is the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies. I came to UNC from Georgia and before that Los Angeles in 2016. I left Iran in 2006 when I was a tenured professor of English literature. I began from zero in the US and built back up. Today, I am a scholar of cultural, literary, gender, and sexuality studies with a focus on Persian and Armenian literature and culture. Focusing on the members of minoritized populations, I have examined topics ranging from: the representation of social, sexual, and religious subalterns and transgressors in medieval Persian Sufi poetry; to sigheh marriages (temporary marriage) and the stigmatized sigheh women in modern Iranian fiction and film; to Iranian Armenian diasporic writers and artists and their sense of identity. I teach courses on Iranian and Middle Eastern culture and literature. When I am not teaching or writing, I enjoy walking my dog, Pearl, and painting with acrylic paint.
Over the past few months, I have been learning about the center’s operations more intimately. While we will maintain all that is already established, here are some of my top priorities and initiatives we will be launching in the coming year.
- Engage all faculty and students from various disciplines and units, listen to your feedback, build community, and foster a rigorous intellectual space within the center. In September, I will reach out to faculty and grad students to meet with you one-on-one or in groups to receive feedback and advice from you.
- Foster faculty participation – we will launch a CMEIS Annual Lecture Series where faculty will be funded to organize lectures relevant to their research, expertise, and passion. In addition to the consortium’s annual conference, the lecture series is an equitable way to be inclusive of all faculty and a great avenue to diversify our events.
- Build community with graduate students – we will have a monthly graduate student colloquium, where every month a graduate student will share their research paper, followed by an hour-long discussion with their peers and faculty. These meetings will foster community building amongst faculty and grad students across campus.
- Build community with the public – right after the hour-long colloquium, we will have a CMEIS Social Café, where we will open the doors to the public community. This one-hour monthly gathering will allow members of the public to engage with us in an informal context with tea/coffee and Middle Eastern sweets and learn about all the wonderful work that our faculty and students are doing.
- Fundraising – since April, I have met with many directors, administrators, and the arts and sciences foundation (development office) to plan for this fundraising in the coming year. The center will be 20 years old in 2023 which will be a good time to fundraise, both virtually and in person. In spring 2023, we will have several major functions and receptions to celebrate the center’s anniversary. I have also been meeting with our current donors in hopes to bring in more funding and potential endowments.
I feel honored to serve the center with our shared mission in mind. These initiatives will only be possible with your help and feedback. For that, I am thankful to you in advance and very excited to collaborate with all of you.
Claudia Yaghoobi, Ph.D. (she, her, hers)
Roshan Associate Professor, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies