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Maryam Qudrat Addresses Students at Kansas State
Bhagavathy Umamaheswar
Kansas State Collegian

Activist speaks on K-State's partnership with Afghanistan

Maryam Qudrat, activist and spokesperson in the Afghan-American and Muslim communities, spoke about Afghan women, education initiatives and Kabul University at a presentation on Friday.
"When I was in Washington, D.C., a young woman entered the room with positive ideas and energy, and I knew this special person was capable of influencing the world in many great ways," said Elizabeth Unger, vice provost for academic services and technology and dean of continuing education, in her introduction of Qudrat.

Qudrat is the author of the book "Torn Between Two Cultures — An Afghan-American Woman Speaks Out," which delves into the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan and efforts to bridge cultural divides.

Qudrat is a professor at California State University-Long Beach and is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Southern California. She serves as the Women's Affairs and Social Institutions Officer at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington D.C. Her research deals with the construction of new theories on Islamic jihad within the war on terrorism.

The afternoon's talk began with Qudrat's description of K-State's initiative in partnering with Kabul University.

"This is the first time a collection of colleges and deans are coming together in a leadership team to identify special projects to lift hearts and minds in Afghanistan," she said.

This initiative goes back a year, when Yar Ebadi, dean of the College of Business Administration, visited his home country of Afghanistan after about 24 years.

"Post-Taliban, I saw immense potential in partnering with universities in Afghanistan," said Ebadi, who went to Washington, D.C., to get grants to support the academic initiative between K-State and Kabul University.

Commenting on the importance of the initiative, Qudrat said such a project brought together people from opposite ends of the world and from various colleges within the university. She emphasized the importance of a sustainable effort.

"With education you can automatically dissipate social plagues like terrorism," Qudrat said, referring to the 79-percent illiteracy rate in Afghanistan.

She said despite the lack of infrastructure in schools, Afghans have the will to learn, and they know the importance of education. Kabul University has an enrollment of nearly 40,000 students, she said.

"There are students and faculty but there is a lack of quality," Qudrat said. "There is no critical thinking and analytical discourse."

Commending the exceptional strength and fortitude of Afghan women, Qudrat discussed their efforts to juggle family responsibilities and their roles as pioneers in education.

"When you look at women wearing burquas (the opaque veil worn by Muslim women), it's easy to think of them all being the same," she said, "with no feelings, opinions or identities."

Qudrat said her vision for Afghan women is for them to live dignified lives and exercise their rights and access to health care and education.

Charlotte Shoup Olsen, associate professor of family studies and human services, said it was encouraging to have a cooperative framework with the eagerness of the governments to facilitate such initiatives.

"K-State can spread its wings and offer its expertise," she said. "In turn, we can learn about other people and get a greater understanding of their lives."

The first leg of the project begins in April, when nine K-State faculty members will visit Kabul. Chris Ross, professor in the department of anatomy and physiology, and Briana Goff, associate professor of family studies and human services, are among the nine.

"Most of the faculty have only bachelors degrees and their system of instruction is mostly by rote," Ross said. "We are trying to make their faculty more competent."

Goff stressed the importance of the cross-cultural experience and said this was just the beginning of more similar initiatives with other nations.

Quadrat said many see the partnership between the two universities as the beginning of long-term interaction across colleges and departments. Qudrat also talked about the possibility of bringing Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to speak in the Landon Lecture series.

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