DeGarmo shares heart for Palestinian cause with students

Denise DeGarmo, chair of the Political Science Department, in front of the separation wall in Bethlehem, a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank, about six miles south of Jerusalem.

Denise DeGarmo, chair of the Political Science Department, did not anticipate how visiting Palestine would impact both hers and her students’ lives.

DeGarmo started visiting Palestine in 2011 through invitation by the Palestinian-American Research Center (PARC)  and said she was “not the same” when she returned to the U.S.

According to its website, the center was formed “to improve scholarship about Palestinian issues, expand the pool of experts knowledgeable about the Palestinians and strengthen linkages among Palestinian, American and foreign research institutions and scholars.”

DeGarmo said through the program, she got to “live, see and feel what’s happening” in a territory occupied by Israeli military forces.

Since her initial trip, DeGarmo has visited Palestine once or twice a year and developed a working relationship with the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ). Through ARIJ, DeGarmo has collected and studied data related to human security in the occupied Palestinian territories.

According to DeGarmo, many of her students were interested in what was happening there.

“I had three students [who] told me, ‘I want to go with you to help you research,’” DeGarmo said.

Tyler Urish, Charmaine Burris and Robert Wann spent ten days of their winter break in Palestine assisting DeGarmo with her research.

DeGarmo said the students experienced an intensive look at the Arab-Israeli conflict traveling through Jerusalem and the entire West Bank.

The chance to see students live and work in the context of a war zone was life-changing according to DeGarmo.

“I really wanted them to feel what it was like to be there and experience all of the impediments to movement,” DeGarmo said. “We lost power. We ran out of water. We were stopped at check points and we were approached by Israeli defense forces.”

According to Wann, a political science student, he learned that the information  given by the media about the country is not the whole story.

“I’ve never changed my stance on any subject so quickly in my life,” Wann said.  “I by no means know the full extent of the everyday struggles of the Palestinians but I definitely got a glimpse and it was not pretty.”

Senior political science major Nasir Almasri, who has assisted DeGarmo with her research since 2011, said he believes traveling to Palestine “does a world of difference for students.”

“No longer do they have to rely on media explanation or arguments made by various people or groups,” Almasri said. “I wish I can go next time.”

Travelling abroad, according to Wann, should be an integral part in students’ education.

“We as Americans get so wrapped up in the comforts that we have and the social norms we have established, that we forget that the world doesn’t necessarily work or think the way we think it should,” Wann said. “It’s good to see others’ points of view, culture, and hardships.”

Wann added he was “very surprised” DeGarmo was willing to take them to the West Bank.

“Either she thought very highly of us or she is a super generous person,” Wann said, “I personally think it was more of the latter.”

Wann said he believes the Palestinian cause is “very close” to Dr. DeGarmo’s heart.

“I was very grateful she allowed us to accompany her on a once in a lifetime trip,” Wann said.  “It definitely changed my life. If I had the chance I’d go back in a heartbeat.

More than 25 political science students have worked with DeGarmo on her research projects through the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Program (URCA) and according to she, they have been “a really important source” of interpreting data for the Applied Research Institute.

DeGarmo said she and her department are planning a travel study to Israel “to provide students with a glimpse into the lives and politics of Christians in the Holy Land.”

Students, according to DeGarmo, will have the opportunity to speak with a community of experts there  and perform a community service project. The trip is scheduled to take place March 7-15, 2015.

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