At the crossroads between China and India, Southeast Asia is at the forefront and center of a host of global issues, including ethnic and religious diversity; human rights conflict; democratization and terrorism; infectious disease; rapid development and its environmental consequences; and, of course, globalization. These “hot button” issues are at the heart of a new course offered in winter 2007 by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS).

    “Contemporary Social Issues in Southeast Asia” (CSEAS 215) taps into the University’s strong faculty resources on Southeast Asia. The course brings together 10 full faculty members from a variety of LSA departments and professional schools for a coordinated series of lectures and classes designed to introduce lower-level undergraduates to Southeast Asia. Jessica Tate, a freshman from Fargo, North Dakota, who is also studying first-year Thai, is excited about what this new course has to offer. “I particularly enjoy the guest lecturers and the questions being raised in the class. It’s making the area interesting to me, and the topics raised really get people talking in the room.”

    Aside from group design of the course by faculty, the most innovative approach to linking the course together is the development of a “Sounding Board” of 12 undergraduates at Southeast Asian universities in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. These students are able to participate from afar by signing into the course’s CTools website and sharing their thoughts with the 40 Michigan undergraduates in the course through email, bulletin boards, and chat rooms. Their participation provides a constant Southeast Asian voice as the course moves from topic to topic and from discipline to discipline. This access to local insight as well as cross-cultural exchange allows students to learn about Southeast Asia in a unique way that is not limited to traditional classroom methods.

    The course was developed not only to help spur undergraduate interest in Southeast Asian studies at Michigan, but also in response to President Coleman’s Multi-Disciplinary Team-Teaching Initiative (MLTT), which provides resources to attract research faculty to teach undergraduates in interdisciplinary courses. “The course really helps meet a number of university and center priorities,” says Linda Lim, CSEAS director and course lecturer from the Business School. “It allows colleagues from various disciplines to work together in introducing our specific area and professional knowledge to undergraduates, whom some of us otherwise never teach. We hope this will encourage students to explore other Southeast Asia area, language, and relevant disciplinary courses.”


    For more information on the course and Southeast Asian Studies at U-M, please visit the Center for Southeast Asian Studies website at http://www.umich-cseas.org.

    Charley Sullivan is program associate at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the International Institute.