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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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Guest Opinion: Bridging Cultures, Building Community: The Inclusive Vision of the Arab Student Association at the U

University+of+Utah+marketing+student+and+member+of+the+Arab+Student+Association%2C+Aya+Hadid%2C+stands+in+front+of+the+flags+inside+of+the+A.+Ray+Olpin+Union+Building+on+campus+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Jan.+28%2C+2023.
Jack Gambassi
University of Utah marketing student and member of the Arab Student Association, Aya Hadid, stands in front of the flags inside of the A. Ray Olpin Union Building on campus in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28, 2023. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

The University of Utah’s Arab Student Association was established in fall 2022 by Amer Al-Shuqairat and Mariam Safeudien with the goal of promoting inclusion and cross-cultural understanding on campus. Since its founding, ASA has worked to promote cultural awareness across the institution and build a feeling of community among Middle Eastern and North African, or MENA, students. 

From the outset, our first post on Instagram made it clear that our mission is to include students and share the rich Middle Eastern culture on campus. As MENA students, the founders recognized the prevalence of stereotypes, particularly in light of current events in the Middle East. Many MENA students at the U are first or second-generation immigrants and refugees, making ASA’s role even more crucial in building a bridge to connect them to their cultural roots.

Many MENA students at the U are first or second generation immigrants and refugees. ASA wants to build a bridge to connect the MENA students to their cultural roots while teaching others the joy of the beautiful Middle Eastern culture. Poetry night, “A Night of Solidarity,” was an event we hosted in October, which brought MENA and non-MENA students together to celebrate their shared love of poetry and to embrace their solidarity with Palestine. 

The club has also hosted various events, such as game nights that recreate the laid-back joy of playing board games with friends at a late-night café, or Arabian Nights, an opportunity for students to share their music, food, dances and art. These events not only allowed us to teach others about us, but allowed us to learn about one another, as we all come from different backgrounds. 

Our board members originate from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. While we collectively share a region, our individual approaches to embracing culture vary. Through mutual exchange, we’ve introduced each other to new words, music, dances, food and ways of life. This reciprocal learning has not only deepened our understanding of our own cultures but also inspired us to perpetuate this knowledge. It is these shared experiences that drive and motivate us. 

Through the Gulf War, 9/11 and the Iraq War, the Middle East has been painted as a warzone. People fear our culture and fear to understand the hardships we may face. It has been difficult to set cultural stepping stones as we are in constant fear of racism. Many of our families have gone through hardships to get to where we are today.

One of our goals is to teach those who may not understand the culture of peace that we bring to the table. Many non-MENA students come to our events in hopes of learning about the culture and we give them just that.

Through the showcase of the beautiful Arabic book library that is one of a kind at the U, or even small gestures such as giving out sweets, we try our best to paint MENA in a picture that should be showcased rather than allow stereotypes to grow within the community at the U. 

As we come together as a student organization, we want to build a legacy of peace and inclusivity. ASA wants to bring a sense of home to those who unfortunately cannot be there. That includes building a tight knit community that helps others feel safe and welcomed. Being able to bring the MENA community together to always have a back to lean on is one of our goals. We watched tight bonds grow at our events, people dancing to the same beautiful Arabic music and a sense of community love spread. At the end of the day, it is the smile that we can bring on a face that keeps us striving to do more. 

We continue to embrace concerns as opportunities for growth, ensuring our club becomes a space that truly represents and unites our vibrant community. Being able to bring our community together and make people feel welcome was a huge concern of ours. However, despite our fears, we were able to share friendships and experiences with so many others like us on campus and through that, we couldn’t have wished for any better outcome with our club.

 

— Aya Hadid, Lin Yousef, Mariam Safeudien, Amer Al-Shuqairat, Fatima Al-Saedy and Mirna El Gendy of the Arab Student Association

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About the Contributor
Jack Gambassi, Photographer
Jack comes from Boise, Idaho and is a senior in the Honor's College majoring in economics with minors in Italian and chemistry. He is a pre-med student and hopes to go to medical school in the fall of 2024. Jack has been taking photos as a hobby since he was eight years old. After two years at the Chronicle, this will be his third and final year. A fun fact about Jack is that he speaks Italian.

Comments (1)

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  • J

    John HedbergFeb 9, 2024 at 7:01 am

    I think your stated vision is beautiful:
    Thank you for sharing it~!

    It would be wonderful if we shared this same vision across all groups as a campus and aimed higher for both a common student identity and also a common human one, since the concerns and benefits mentioned here are ones we all share, both on this campus and as human beings, and it’s this common human identity which is our only true safe space: each other, as Family, even as Dr. King preached this Gospel~

    Can we do that, and have gatherings which share all our cultures, so we can truly enrich and enjoy each other? 💛

    Kindly, with Love

    Reply