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Empowering Change: How Sose Hovannisian Brought Armenian Language to Penn

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Empowering Change: How Sose Hovannisian Brought Armenian Language to Penn

This is a story of determination and advocacy, Sose Hovannisian, an Armenian-American student from Los Angeles, has successfully introduced Armenian language courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Her journey, marked by persistent efforts and passion, not only expanded the linguistic offerings at Penn but also created a significant milestone for the Armenian community within the university.

As an incoming first-year student, Sose was dismayed to discover that Armenian, one of the world's oldest languages, was not offered at Penn. Despite prestigious institutions like Columbia and Harvard including Armenian language and history courses, Penn was lacking in this regard. Rather than succumbing to disappointment, Sose decided to take matters into her own hands.

Sose’s initial attempts involved contacting the Penn Language Center and petitioning for the inclusion of Armenian language courses. However, the process was far from straightforward. The Center's slow response and lack of enthusiasm posed challenges, but Sose's unwavering determination led her to delve into the history of Armenians at Penn. Armed with knowledge about the language's past presence in the College and backed by a group of ten enthusiastic students, including a graduate student specializing in Armenian linguistics, Sose successfully garnered support for the course.

The efforts paid off last month when George Balabanian, a Canadian-Armenian Ph.D. student in linguistics, confirmed that the course, titled "LANG 0100: Elementary I: Armenian I," would be offered in the upcoming spring semester. The course aims to provide students with a foundational understanding of Western Armenian, covering historical and linguistic contexts, grammar lessons, family life, traditions, and contemporary diasporan communities.

For the Armenian community at Penn, this development is a source of immense pride and joy, especially amidst ongoing war, humanitarian crisis, ethnic cleansing, and Armenophobia faced by Armenians globally. The addition of the Armenian language course not only brings Penn in line with other prestigious universities but also sets a precedent for active student engagement and influence within the institution.

Sose Hovannisian's determination and success serve as an inspiring example for students seeking to initiate change. Reflecting on her accomplishment, she encourages fellow students: "If Penn opened its ears to my mother tongue, it’ll listen to yours, too." Her achievement not only enriches the linguistic diversity at Penn but also signifies the university's commitment to embracing and celebrating the cultural heritage of its diverse student body.


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