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Heather Werner ’02 (Bath, Pa.), a double major in anthropology and sociology and German, delved into an intensive independent research project on the acculturation and assimilation of Muslim immigrants in German society during the fall semester.

“Given that they might have come from a different cultural norm, entering into a westernized society might be disorienting,” says Werner. “My research comprised written accounts on how Muslims have acculturated to this new identity in Germany, whether it be projected from discrimination, gender stratification or xenophobia.”

Werner’s independent study merged her interests. “During a study abroad program two years ago in Bonn, Germany, I became acquainted with some Muslim immigrants from Iran,” says Werner. “It was interesting to figure out how they acculturated into another society. Having done some prior research with Islam, this was another venue to continue the same type of research, yet look at it through a different kind of lens. As I have been studying German for seven years, the language and the culture have become a part of me.”

“The discrimination and gender and ethnic stratification caught my attention,” continues Werner. “Here is a culture I have been studying for a third of my life, which is part of my heritage, and I want to understand how the acculturation process of a different ethnic group affects the normal day-to-day life in Germany. I realize there are conflicts of immigrants in Germany, but why? Why are we ready to lead a structured, homogenous life and are less accepting of change even though the social fabric is ever-changing?”

This independent study project also builds upon Werner’s research as a participant in American University’s Peace and Conflict Resolution Program during the fall semester of her junior year. The program involved a trip to Quebec, an internship at Search for Common Ground in its production division, Common Ground Production, a course, and a research project.

“Intrigued by the encounters with Iranian Muslims, I wanted to know more of this particular culture, as well as the gender stratification, because all I know is what I hear which are basically generalizations and stereotypes of the Islamic faith,” says Werner. “My project was called “Ideology of the Iranian State Regarding Gender versus the Rights and Roles of Women.” In a way I brought my interest of the unknown and combined it with my desire to learn other cultures, languages, and religions.”

Werner’s faculty advisor for her independent study was Edward R. McDonald, professor of foreign languages and literature. “In my experience as a student of his, Dr. McDonald is a unique professor,” says Werner. “Not only does he present the academic aspect to the classroom, but he also gives his own personal historical accounts of events relevant to learning.”

“Lafayette provides a unique learning environment, because not only are your professors interested in what you are researching, but this type of research allows students to process information and see a connection between their interest and academic pursuits,” continues Werner. “The professors I have encountered here at Lafayette have been compassionate about their profession, empathetic of a student’s life and scholastic ability, and intrigued by the development of a small idea that grows like a nucleus into something large.”

“I believe it is with these kinds of professors that projects like independent studies can occur,” says Werner. “In particular, I have the support of the foreign language department, since I am doing the project with it specifically, but my ideas and reasoning of the subject matter come from the anthropology and sociology department. It is the combination of these two disciplines, as well as the current hot topic in Germany, which allow me to pursue this concentration.”

This semester, Werner is working as an EXCEL Scholar with Stephen E. Lammers, Helen H.P. Manson Professor of the English Bible, to translate German theological articles and write an annotative bibliography.

During the interim session between regular semesters, Werner traveled to Russia and Poland to take the Lafayette course Russia and Poland: Past and Present. Last semester, Werner took the Qualitative Methods of Research class led by Dan Bauer, professor of anthropology and sociology, and worked with a team of students to develop an ethnography on the subject of rodeos, producing a video running 12 to 15 minutes long and a written report. According to Bauer, “The primary goal of an ethnography is to give people a view of what it’s like to be a member of a community that they haven’t directly experienced.”

Outside of class, Werner is involved in Resident Hall Council, Lafayette Christian Fellowship, Lafayette Leadership Institute, and Alternative School Break Club. She has been active with International Students Association, Asian Cultural Association, Lafayette African and Caribbean Students Association, German Club, Student Alumni Association, Emile Durkheim Society (anthropology and sociology club), and Delta Delta Delta sorority. She has also been a resident adviser, chaplain intern, Computing Services employee, Allen P. Kirby gym monitor and substitute, and America Reads tutor.

A graduate of Northampton Senior High School, Werner’s post-graduation plans include a study and work abroad program in Germany and/or graduate school for a master’s in applied anthropology.

Categorized in: Academic News