Bengali at Rutgers University
Fund-raising lunch December 2!
Bengali (Bangla) is a rich language with over 200 million speakers in Bangladesh and India and millions more worldwide. It has a literary tradition going back some 800 years. It has continued to flourish in the modern period with the first Nobel prize in literature awarded to an Asian being won by Rabindranath Tagore in 1913. He also wrote what became the national anthems of India ("Jana Gana Mana") and of Bangladesh ("Amar Sonar Bangla").
In recent decades many people of Bengali heritage have settled in the New York-New Jersey area. Many of them find the younger generation is losing touch with its language and culture. A number of small Sunday language schools and private tutorial schools have struggled to preserve this rich heritage. But it becomes difficult to participate in such programs once young people move to the University with its rigorous academic demands.
Bengali Program at Rutgers: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey serves the citizens of New Jersey and its neighboring states by providing excellent educational opportunities at affordable rates. In the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, the Bengali Student Association is a rapidly growing student organization with a current membership over a hundred. Many of these student members are American born but have Bengali ancestry. Because of the language learning needs of the increasing Bengali student population, several faculty members and student leaders successfully lobbied the Rutgers administration to open a Bengali Teaching Program two years ago.
Students filled out and returned about 130 survey forms expressing an interest in studying the language. (Response rates in student surveys are often very low. This survey had an exceptional response.) What was especially striking was that about 35 forms came from students with non-Bengali names. Some were from other parts of India, some from East and Southeast Asia and yet others Anglo-American. I quote some of these below:
Several had actively sought instruction - one wrote that she sought to learn from "my sophomore year room-mate".
Another "I have tried to get my friend to teach me …however, she doesn't know how to read or write it, only speak it."
A third: "Yes – from friends of Bengali background, not only their language but also their culture."
"I have been interested ever since I lived with my Bengali roommate."
"My best friend is Bengali so I try to understand her through her culture and LANGUAGE. I would love to learn more about it."
"My friend speaks it, so I listen."
"I have not considered it before because I am not Bengali, but I would love to [study it]!"
Bengali Language at Rutgers is currently taught at only one level Elementary Bengali (01:925:103 and 01:925:104): Bengali is offered through the South Asian Studies Program both in fall and spring semester.
Bengali Language Program’s New Initiative at Rutgers: Recently with the effort of faculty, student and community members, Rutgers has formed the Bengali Language and Culture Initiative Fund Raising Committee in order obtained funds to further promote Bengali language teaching in this institution. The immediate goal is to establish a two-year teaching program both at the elementary and Intermediate levels. The long-term goal is to develop the following:
Students attending Rutgers Bangla class, Fall 2006
- Create a permanent faculty line at Rutgers University to direct and oversee Bengali language and literary studies
- Exchange programs with Universities in West Bengal and Bangladesh to bring distinguished faculty to teach at Rutgers University
- Graduate fellowships whereby qualified students will work on Bengali literature in the Comparative Literature Program at Rutgers and provide instructional support for undergraduate education
- Upgrade Bangla instruction to a full three year, six-semester program with different streams 0f students at different levels of ability
Why should you support the Bengali Language Program at Rutgers?
Because the Tri State area is the home for thousands of Bengalis, there is a continuing increase in the number of students of second generation with Bengali heritage who are interested in learning Bangla at Rutgers. These students want to learn to read and write and speak in Bangla so as to keep in touch with their cultural roots. Several non-Bengalis want to learn Bangla for research or work in South Asia; others want access to the cultural heritage of Bengali. Offering Bengali as a University language program will allow students to get academic credit for their study. More of them will be able to begin or continue their study of the language. A strong Bengali program will allow for educational exchanges with India and Bangladesh, benefiting scholars there with the opportunity to access the greater resources and wider perspectives of the American education system. Rutgers New Brunswick alone has some 35,000 students. Any investment in Bengali program at Rutgers will benefit not one or two but hundreds of students. We feel that there are few other institutions in this country of whom this can be said.
If you are interested in helping the Rutgers Bengali Initiative, please contact Professors Dipak Sarkar (sarkar @aesop.rutgers.edu) or Sumit Guha (firstname.lastname@example.org).