Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld Seeks to Broaden the Mission of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Area Studies Centers

February 14, 2018

Senior Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Global Programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld also conducts anthropology research in Ecuador. Above, he is with local weaver and community leader from Ariasucu, Ecuador, Antonio Castaneda Camuendo.

For Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, Global Spotlight Week is a perfect example of the kind of work that he hopes to expand in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s area studies centers. As senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, he oversees the six centers co-sponsoring Global Spotlight Week.

During the week, Feb. 17-24, students and scholars from diverse world regions unite to discuss a theme – this year’s is “Crises of Citizenship” – and in doing so, they build relationships and knowledge to help overcome challenges in many parts of the world.

“Issues that are particularly newsworthy right now, such as Syrian refugees migrating to Europe, fit a broader global pattern that we see in other places and times around the world,” Colloredo-Mansfeld says. “Global Spotlight Week connects all of these different parts of the world in a single issue and shows that similar social, political and cultural trends are unfolding across many places, and yet they’re also taking very different forms as a result of unique regional circumstances.”

The area studies centers, most of which are National Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program, include the African Studies Center; Carolina Asia Center; Center for European Studies; Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies; Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations; and Institute for the Study of the Americas. They work together, along with the pan-university Center for Global Initiatives, to provide resources to faculty, educators and students and to host events that engage the broader community in international issues.

“All of the centers are tremendous sources of expertise. Their work is rooted in understanding the language, history, cultures and political situations of different world regions, helping us to see commonalities across the world as well as different perspectives,” Colloredo-Mansfeld says.

“The regions of the world are strongly a part of American culture and society, so that outreach and work internationally also means working with communities here in the United States that have connections to those parts of the world,” he says. “In some ways, the work of the centers can facilitate understanding between new immigrants and local communities.”

At their core, the area studies centers support language learning, provide travel and research opportunities, and facilitate exchanges with universities and scholars across the globe. Not just internationally, Colloredo-Mansfeld says, but domestically as well.

The centers support undergraduate curricula, graduate training, various educational programs and community outreach activities, many of which support K-12 and community colleges. Each center also pursues projects and initiatives relevant to their world region. The African Studies Center, for example, works across institutions and universities throughout the southeast United States to build a network among scholars of African culture, and the Institute for the Study of the Americas co-hosts the Latino Migration Project with the Center for Global Initiatives.

“The area studies centers support dialogue among scholars that are coming from different parts of the world, who reflect deep, rich, diverse alternative perspectives on the world. The centers facilitate dialogue that then shapes the way that we can do our research and helps us develop an understanding of current affairs,” Colloredo-Mansfeld says.

Different groups benefit from the resources the centers offer in various ways. Students at Carolina benefit from having a resource that allows them to expand their knowledge of the world in a global context, and the centers help connect the students to international education opportunities such as Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships. For faculty, the centers provide scholarly connections and worldwide partnerships, and they host visiting scholars from various regions of the world. Through K-12 outreach, the centers collaborate with educators to develop lesson plans about different parts of the world, and professionals can go to the centers for expertise on everything from business development to new immigrant communities.

All of these roles have been long-established in the area studies centers, but Colloredo-Mansfeld hopes to broaden their mission to include more research and travel opportunities for faculty and students, new courses in the global studies curriculum and stronger relationships with immigrant communities in the United States.

“I want to support faculty that want to experiment with those connections,” Colloredo-Mansfeld says. “I’m very interested in helping them find those intersections among their work to get a bigger audience, to capture people’s attention with what they’re finding out.”

“The centers are all in this moment of experimenting with diverse programming,” Colloredo-Mansfeld says. “They started by trying to build the capacity on this campus to support scholars looking at different parts of the world, and now they are looking to widen the way they work with students and to widen the kinds of partnerships that they see between communities and scholars. It’s an interesting time. It’s an experimental time.”