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Penn’s Middle East Center is located on the second floor of Fisher-Bennett Hall.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

John Ghazvinian — author, historian, and former journalist — became the new associate director of Penn’s Middle East Center last week. 

Ghazvinian was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing and a research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. 

Outside of Penn, he has also worked as a journalist, written two history books for general audiences, and taught modern Middle East history at several local universities. 

Ghazvinian said that as associate director he will be responsible for managing the Middle East Center’s day-to-day operations, while Director Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet will oversee the strategic vision.  

“My priorities right now are to continue all of the very exciting programming that we have been doing,” Ghazvinian added. 

Specifically, Ghazvinian said that one of his goals was to introduce more students to the Modern Middle Eastern Studies major, which he will be responsible for coordinating. 

“We really want to do everything we can to encourage Penn students to consider majoring or minoring in Modern Middle Eastern studies," Ghazvinian said. "We think it’s one of the most relevant majors you could have in the current atmosphere."

The center was created in 1965 as a part of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and "looked to add a contemporary dimension to Penn’s programs in ancient and medieval studies of the Middle East," according to the website.

Currently, the center is a hub for students and faculty in fields related to the Middle East. Beyond offering an undergraduate degree in Modern Middle Eastern Studies and a certificate program with Penn Law, the center also frequently invites speakers and hosts events. 

Students and faculty members say that the Middle East Center plays a significant role on Penn’s campus. 

“They’re just a really important resource for everybody who does anything related to the Middle East at Penn,” Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations professor Joseph Lowry said. "I’m glad that they hired a new associate director...I look forward to working with him."

College junior Omar Khoury, who is majoring in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, said that the Middle East Center helps students engage with the region in a meaningful way. 

“It strives to deconstruct the stereotypes surrounding the Middle East by presenting students with opportunities to get more engaged and learn more about the history and the nuance in the Middle East,” Khoury said. 

Ghazvinian said that as associate director, he hopes to get more students involved in the Middle East Center. 

“It’s very important to me that we continue to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible, both on the Penn campus as well as the wider community,” he said. 

Ghazvinian is hopeful that his diverse experience will assist him in his new role. 

“One of my great passions has always been finding ways to make serious scholarly work accessible to a wide audience,” he said. “And that’s really the role of the Middle East Center, and I think that’s what I hope to bring to that.”

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