Turkish activist joins staff
Zehra Arat brings a passion for human rights to UConn
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 21:09
This article is part of a series highlighting this year’s new professors who have outstanding achievements in their career and major plans to bring to UConn.
In her high school years, new professor Zehra Arat was an activist in Turkey. She moved to the U.S. to do graduate work in political science in 1980. Having taught for almost 30 years, she came to UConn to share her human rights background and plan on developing an exchange program with Turkish universities.
Arat holds a Ph.D in political science. Her research focuses on human rights, and she established a human rights section in the International Political Science Association. Her emphasis is on women’s rights, she said.
“UConn’s political science department is strong, and on top of that, the whole institution has been growing in the study of human rights and women, gender, feminism studies, so when you put all three together, they made UConn an attractive place me,” Arat said.
This semester she is teaching “Gender Politics” and “Political Protest and Ideologies.” The first course introduces students to issues of power and gender subordination with a global perspective, Arat said. “Ideologies” analyzes a range of political ideologies as responses to their historical and geographical contexts.
Her courses are not cross-listed with the related departments this semester; however, she said they might be in time. Both are undergraduate courses, but she would like to eventually work with graduate students on their research.
In the future, Arat also said she would also like to explore the possibility for exchange programs with Turkish universities.
Arat said that at the last school she taught at, Purchase College in New York, she was working on creating a double degree program with a Turkish university, but was limited because of the size of school. “But it can be done with UConn, so I would like to use my contact to the benefit of UConn and Turkish students,” Arat said.
UConn Study Abroad currently has study abroad programs in the Middle East, but no exchange programs. A main difference between the two is that students on exchange pay tuition to UConn and take the place of a student at the exchange university who comes to UConn. Study abroad is a separate program with a different cost than UConn.
Arat has written two edited books on Turkey, “Deconstructing Images of ‘The Turkish Woman,’” and “Human Rights in Turkey,” in addition to four other books. She said she travels back to her home country at least once a year and works closely with Turkish NGOs that work on women’s and LGBT rights.
When asked if she was still working as an activist when she returned home, she said, “I do but not as much as I would like to.”
This past summer an environmentalist movement peaked in Turkey. After the government forcibly moved people protesting a shopping mall in Gezi Park in Istanbul, the people responded with disapproval in the government.
“It involved what is considered eight political segments of the society,” Arat said. “People with different ideologies and demographics joined including some people who voted for this political party, and they managed to maintain diversity without alienating the other groups. It was the first time in Turkish history, and is very rare globally.”
In her classroom she says she tries not to impose her activist views on students, but commented, “If the students are already mobilized I will join them.”
Arat said so far she finds the students engaging, and overall people to be nice. “Connecticut people are very kind and gentile as opposed to New Yorkers, which has been refreshing. So now I have to learn how to be kinder and calmer.”