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Female Arab Students’ Experience of Acculturation and Cultural Diversity upon Accessing Higher Education in the Northern Galilee-Israel

In this study Druze, Christian, and Muslim Arab female students speak of their experience of acculturation, ethnic tolerance, and discrimination as first generation of women leaving their villages of the Northern Galilee to access higher education in the colleges established in the region.

Prior to accessing regional Western-style colleges in which the official language of study is Hebrew, these women lived in secluded villages of the Northern Galilee in which only Arabic is spoken. Extended family and the communal life of the villages are regulated by Islamic or Druze laws and strict norms protecting women’s modesty, and the honor of the family set the limits of women comportment and behavior (Abu-Rabia-Queder &Weiner-Levi, 2008; Arar, & Haj-yehia, 2010; Weiner-Levy, 2006). Arab students study in a separate educational system that aims at preserving the Arabic language, its traditions, and culture. Hebrew is taught as a second language since 3rd grade, and English is taught as third language since 5th grade.

Like other low SES minorities in the Western world, Arab and other Mizrahi1 minorities living in the periphery of Israel have come to grasp the importance of higher education as a means of social and economic mobility (Arar, & Haj-yehia, 2010; Astin, 1982; Connor, 2004). However, Arab women’s access to Western-style Israeli universities has often been met with the resistance of traditional extended families and community leaders due to the threat to female modesty. For many Arab families universities are insecure spaces in which young women may be tempted to transgress religious and ethnic norms protecting the honor of the family. Consequently traditional Arab families have been facing the dilemma of protecting females’ honor by having them remain in the home versus allowing them to access higher education to increase the social and economic mobility of the family (Abu-Rabia-Queder &Weiner-Levi, 2008; Arar, & Haj-Yehia, 2010; Weiner-Levy, 2006). A similar dilemma was reported by female students from other Islamic countries such as Pakistan who were studying in British universities (Ahmad, 2001; Arar, & Haj-yehia, 2010).

In addition to cultural barriers, low SAT and matriculation examination scores often prevented low income Arab and Jewish Mizrahi minority students living in the periphery of Israel to meet the high admission requirements set by Israeli universities (Abu-Saad, 2005; Al-Haj, 1995; Arar, & Haj-yehia, 2010; Gamliel & Cahan, 2004; Mustafa, 2006). Low psychometric scores have often been attributed to culturally biased examinations and/or the poor quality of education of self-contained Jewish development towns and Arab villages in the periphery of Israel (Abu-Saad, 2006; Al-Haj, 2003; Gamliel and Cahan, 2004; Mazawi, 2003). In contrast to wealthy families living in Arab towns who could afford placing their children in quality private schools and thus enable their children to obtain high matriculation scores, Arab and Mizrahi minorities living in the periphery of Israel are studying in public schools plagued with overcrowding and discipline problems (Abu-Asbah, 2005; Arar, & Haj-yehia, 2010; Gamliel and Cahan, 2004; Mazawi, 2003).

To widen higher education opportunities for disadvantaged minorities United States and European countries have usually enacted affirmative action policies (Deardorff & Jones, 2004; Ntiri, 2001; Shiner & Modood, 2002). In 1992, the Israeli Commission of Higher Education’s adopted the resolution to establish academic colleges in the Northern Galilee as a culturally sensitive solution combining the cultural demands with affirmative action policies (Al-Haj, 1995; Arar and Abu-Asbah, 2007; Budget and Planning Committee, 1997; Hershkovitz, 2000; Layish 1992). The establishment of academic colleges in the proximity to Arab villages, enabled traditional Arab families to resolve the dilemma they had been facing since their daughters had now the opportunity to pursue higher education without compromising the honor of the family as they continued to live at home and commuted daily to the college (AbuRabia-Queder, 2008; Al-Haj, 2003; Arar & Haj-yehia, 2010). Additionally, and in conformity with affirmative action policies the lower admission requirements of the colleges when compared to those of the universities, resulted in a sharp percentage increase of low socioeconomic and traditional Arab and non-Arab Mizrahi minorities accessing the colleges in the Northern periphery of Israel. In contrast to the 11.4 percent of Arab students in Israeli universities, Arab students in the colleges of the Northern Galilee composed approximately 50 percent of the students’ body (Weisblai, 2007). The percentage of female Arab students in these colleges was reported to surpass that of males, respectively 56% vs. 44% (Manna, 2008) and become approximately equal to that of Jewish female students (58% vs. 66%) (Council for Higher Education, 2009; Davidovitch, Soen, & Kolan, 2007).

The experience of lower socio-economic status and ethnic minorities entering institutions of higher learning cannot be fully understood unless resituated within a space of encounter of knowledge, traditions and cultures at universities (Abu Rabia-Queder, 2008; Barnett 1993; Bourdieu 1988). Female Arab students, who had so far lived in secluded villages in which only Arab was spoken, will upon accessing higher education, have to study in Hebrew the official language of the college, and for the first time, come into contact with Jewish students of various ethnic backgrounds. Female Arab students were therefore, expected to go through a process of acculturation which has been defined by Phinney (2003) as a process of psychological, social and cultural adaptation that occurs when groups of various ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds come into contact with one another. Berry’s (1997, 1998) basic model of acculturation includes four acculturation strategies available to ethnic and minority groups: assimilation, separation, integration, and marginalization. Ethnic groups may want to assimilate, that is, absorb their ethnic and cultural heritage into that of the dominant culture. Alternatively, they may want to integrate, i.e., maintain their own cultural heritage while weaving it into the dominant culture. Separation refers to ethnic groups’ wish to remain apart to maintain their own culture and tradition while having little contact with the dominant culture. Separation, however, becomes segregation when forced by the dominant culture against the wishes of the ethnic group. Marginalization refers to a transient or permanent state of lack of identification and alienation from both the ethnic and dominant cultures.

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(Author: Brenda Geiger

Published by Sciedu Press)