Building bridges, training teachers

Susan Russell
Susan Russell

Cultural anthropologist and NIU Presidential Engagement Professor Susan Russell is no stranger to building bridges between people – in particular, those of the United States and of her area of specialty, the Philippines.

Since 2004, Russell has directed U.S. Department of State-funded programs to bring Muslim and Christian youth and adult leaders from war-torn Mindanao in the southern Philippines to NIU for conflict-resolution and leadership training.

Co-directed with Lina Ong, director of NIU’s International Training Office, these programs have trained more than 330 young activists and attracted more than $3.65 million in federal funding since 2003.

Russell is now expanding her reach thanks to a $90,117 Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant will bring 12 northern Illinois global and social studies high school teachers and community college instructors to the Philippines for a four-week study tour next summer. Run through the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), the grant is the first Fulbright-Hays award NIU has received.

Russell will lead the project, titled “The Philippines: Ethno-Religious Diversity and Human Rights in a Transitioning Democracy in Southeast Asia,” in collaboration with NIU senior Tagalog instructor Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail.

The group will be based at Philippine Normal University in Manila, the Philippines’ capital city on the island of Luzon.

Participants will spend two weeks outside the city to learn about human rights issues and to observe how local educators teach the issues to students. They also will visit important cultural, sacred and historic sites throughout the region to expand their understanding of Philippine history, society, international relations and cultures.

The emphasis, Russell says, is on exposing educators to the tension between ethno-religious diversity and civil society’s efforts to improve the country’s response to ethnic conflict, building respect for the concept of human rights and reviving such democratic institutions as a free press and free elections.

Susan Russell works with an indigenous leader of the Higaonan people in northern Mindanano, Philippines during a previous trip. Historian Noemi Medina is also pictured.
Susan Russell works with an indigenous leader of the Higaonan people in northern Mindanano, Philippines during a previous trip. Historian Noemi Medina is also pictured.

“Illinois was the first state to mandate the teaching of genocide and human rights in public elementary and high schools, yet our educators often have little chance to experience first-hand how a developing country struggles with the many challenges of nation-building,” Russell says.

“My goal in this project is to give our hard-working teachers and community college professors a chance to abruptly widen their understanding of how human rights can be taught in a way that resonates with a country’s history, diversity and political experience.”

Participants will acquire a rich store of examples to use in curricula they design for their classes back in Illinois, Russell says, by first interacting with leaders of social movements and non-governmental organizations that promote pluralism, social justice and active citizenship in specific regions and then by speaking with military and civil authorities in the same places.

Those on the journey also will learn basic Tagalog language and work with Filipino colleagues in developing on-site lesson plans and video blogs.

Russell says that she hopes one outcome of the project will be enduring collaborations between Philippine and Illinois teachers and professors.

The Fulbright-Hays program funding covers all participant expenses, including international air travel. Participants will be required to attend a two-day pre-departure orientation in March 2015 and a pair of two-day follow-up programs to present and polish their curriculum modules stemming from the program.

Information and applications are posted online. For more information, call (815) 753-1771 or email cseas@niu.edu.

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