Unlocking Potential: Adam Cromwell ’21

As an international studies major, Adam Cromwell ’21 has always been interested in the Middle East—its geopolitics, religions, foreign relations, history. He had originally planned to study Spanish in college, but after a conversation with Dr. Hanada Al-Masri, he figured he’d give Arabic a try as well. He loved it. A study abroad experience in Jordan solidified his fascination with the region.

So when Denison launched the Middle East and North Africa studies concentration (MENA), it seemed a perfect fit for his major and interests. And that Arabic class served him well—all MENA students must take courses around the language.

As one of the College’s first MENA concentrators (and as the 2021 recipient of the Denison Hilltoppers Founders' Scholarship), Cromwell gives us a look inside the MENA program—and shares his senior research project, which delves into soccer’s role in creating national identities.

Adam Cromwell ’21

Travel Guides: There are all sorts of aspects of the MENA concentration that I find personally interesting—from religion, like the role of Islam in society, to current geopolitical foreign relations between the U.S. and different regional actors in the Middle East. Plus, Dr. Hanada Al Masri, associate professor of modern languages and director of MENA, makes the concentration awesome. She does a really good job of making sure her students are on top of their work, and she’s always there for help. I could say the nice things about her all day.

Much Bigger Than a Match: When I studied abroad in Jordan, I attended a Jordanian Premier League soccer match between this one club that was supported by most of the Palestinian refugees and Palestinian-Jordanians in the country and another club that was supported by many of the “Jordanian-Jordanian” residents of Amman. I remember people talking about how this club was a way for Palestinian people in Jordan to express their national identity. That match and those conversations prompted my senior research project focusing on the relationship between Palestinians and Jordanians, through the lens of the Jordanian Premier League and the Palestinian soccer club.

The Background: After the Israeli occupation, millions of Palestinian refugees came to Jordan. And for the most part, the country has always been very gracious and accepting of refugees. But in the ’70s there was conflict between Palestinian guerilla armed groups and the Jordanian military. Since then, there have been tensions between Palestinians and Jordanians—Palestinian refugees in Jordan are stereotyped as being dirty, poor, less than. Today there is a rivalry between this one particular Palestinian supported soccer club, called Al-Wehdat, and Al-Faisaly, which is supported by Jordanians. The rivalry is strongly fueled by this political tension. My research argues that the rivalry has become an outlet to express national identity because the Jordanian government doesn’t seem to discuss these in the media. They don’t want to present the country as being disjointed between its demographic groups—and Palestinians make up a really large demographic in Jordan—so it comes out in the stands and on the field.

Jordan Calling: Maybe it’s a shot in the dark, but I’m applying for a Fulbright to be a teaching assistant In Jordan. I’m nostalgic, and I want to go back.

Published January 2021