Dr. Karam Dana, associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, will hold the newly created Alyson McGregor Distinguished Professorship of Transformative Research at the University of Washington Bothell. It is the first-ever named professorship at the University. The professorship is effective through March 2026, with the opportunity for renewal contingent on funding.
Alyson McGregor and the Purple Crayon Foundation made a substantial gift to establish a distinguished professorship to support a faculty member who focuses on the Middle East and its relationship to the West. The UW Board of Regents approved Dana’s appointment last month.
“The gift that funds this term professorship is a milestone in our campus’ development and a powerful example of the impact donors have on our faculty, our students and the community — even internationally,” said Chancellor Wolf Yeigh. “And given Karam’s productive record of scholarship and public engagement, I know he will bring new political and social knowledge to our campus and to the world at a time when they are needed more than ever.”
“I am infinitely humbled and honored to hold the first-ever named professorship at UW Bothell,” said Dana. “To stand at the beginning of a new era for UW Bothell is a position I hold dearly, especially that this professorship is named after a woman. It is indicative of the values UW Bothell holds where we challenge conventions and forge into new frontiers. This professorship will push me forward to address questions that will hopefully have a positive impact.”
Dana, who was born and raised in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank in Hebron, Palestine, received his doctorate in Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the UW, started his faculty position at UW Bothell in 2012, and serves as director of the American Muslim Research Institute. He was awarded UW Bothell’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2018.
Changing the conversation
By its nature, transformative research changes conversations around critical issues. Dana has been changing conversations for close to two decades.
Dana studies Palestine and Palestinians around the world. He has conducted a number of public opinion research polls in the Arab world, from which he published widely on Arab and Palestinian society. In addition, he served as the co-principal investigator of American Muslim Public Opinion Survey, which was conducted in 22 different metropolitan areas around the United States between 2006 and 2009. The survey was aimed at understanding the views of am often maligned population after 9/11. As one of the largest surveys of American Muslims more than a decade later, it continues to generate significant findings about Muslims.
“For a variety of reasons, this kind of research tends not to get funded through traditional means easily,” Dana said. “This gift will open the door to understanding an important part of American society that has been demonized and stereotyped, especially after 9/11.”
Dana will begin his work under this professorship with a number of projects to include a public opinion survey of Muslims 20 years after 9/11. What has changed since then? Does American society have more accurate or less accurate knowledge of Islam and Muslims? What fuels Islamophobia? Have the efforts created to battle racism and discrimination against Muslims hindered or fostered trust in government among American Muslims? What has the experience of American Muslims been?
Connecting to understand
Alyson McGregor is a well-known philanthropist in the Seattle area. McGregor’s desire to support greater understanding of the Muslim community and the Middle East stems from her core value of healing communities. “I grew up in Eastern Washington and have always thought about the health of communities,” she said. “When I think of the Middle East, I think of the first sprout of wheat that led to the rise of agriculture and modern civilization. I see a rich tapestry of peoples, art, culture and science whose influence helped Europe birth the Renaissance.”
In summarizing how she has seen the connections between the Middle East region and the West, McGregor says that the relationship is contentious. “Starting with the drawing of boundaries of the Middle East after World War I, to our American desire for oil, to the ongoing wars as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the common first thought for Americans toward this region is the threat of violence and our need for safety.
“As for Palestine,” she said, “we pass our armchair judgment on whether or not they deserve to belong on their original lands. These deeply held, quick, polarized beliefs and positions — them versus us, better versus lesser, right versus wrong — amplify an underlying ill-informed narrative.”
McGregor, a graduate of the UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, believes that understanding people from this region and their relationship to the West can only lead to greatness within ourselves. “The conversations around this work are profound and hold lessons in how we need to transform our inner landscape of self and evolve our perceptions when addressing the other,” she said. “They teach us that our relationship is not binary; rather, it is dynamic and complex. The threads of our cultures are intricately woven together.
“This is the power of putting a spotlight on understudied topics.”
Creating a healthy community
Dana is energized by the new possibilities for his research agendas.
“I am still shocked, honestly. And it will take me a while to think through the next few years in terms of research, institution building, potential national and international partnerships, and ultimately what these research efforts will bring to the table.”
Dana is driven by his sense of justice and appreciation for people’s individual and collective experiences. “You cannot have a healthy community if members of the community have their identities crushed and are not even acknowledged,” he said.
In the end, Dana says he hopes to change everyday conversation from fear to inclusion, from discrimination and demonization to acceptance and integration. The data he plans to generate will provide a more accurate representation of American Muslims and will have policy implications. With regards to his Palestine-related research, Dana’s goals are to inform justice-based solutions and help foster lasting peace in the region.