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The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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‘Your time here at Northwestern is supposed to be meant for you’: MENA and Arab students reflect on importance of Arab Heritage Month

Kaavya Butaney/The Daily Northwestern
To open Arab Heritage Month, MENA Students Association hosted Weinberg junior Ritaj Abdulquani for a henna workshop Thursday.

When she was eight years old, Medill junior Daniella Karras immigrated from Egypt, her home country, to the United States. In California, she found connections and community within her church. 

But, when she came to Northwestern, she said her home away from home became the Middle Eastern North African Student Association.

Karras, now MENA Student Association’s co-president, is not the only one who feels this way. When Weinberg sophomore and MENA Student Association co-president Lucas Kritz transferred to NU, he said the organization welcomed him with open arms and bonded him with his culture. 

“Arab Heritage Month is a month where we show our presence on campus, and we get to share our culture with people that might not be familiar with it,” Karras said. “That just deepens our interactions with people outside of MENA and outside of the culture — it’s just how we connect.”

The MENA Student Association is hosting events open to the NU community throughout April to commemorate Arab Heritage Month. This year is only the second that NU is officially recognizing the month.

While MENA and Arab aren’t synonymous — one referring to the region and the other referring to a variety of groups that speak Arabic — there is a significant overlap. Kritz and Karras both said being in the MENA Student Association has helped them learn about and share their own culture.

SESP junior and former MENA co-president Eman Hamed said the month will be an opportunity to share the perspective of Arab Americans, separate from the one centered around today’s political climate. 

“It’s about cultural appreciation,” Hamed said. “It’s about consciousness of the Arab identity.”

Hamed also said it allows them to showcase the diversity of the Arab community in religion, economic status and politics. 

For Kritz, representation during the month is especially important to him, he said. 

“American media culture as a whole definitely stereotype(s) and discriminate(s) against Arabs,” Kritz said. “So, being uplifted and celebrating our heritage is especially important to me.”

The events hosted by the MENA Students Association will range from a henna tutorial to Arab Expressions, an event for students to celebrate their culture through clothing, poetry and performances.

While the MENA Students Association taught her about the intricacies of her culture, Hamed said it also put into context how Arab students are not necessarily represented on NU’s campus.

Hamed joined the club in Winter Quarter 2022 when it was just six or seven months old. She said this allowed her to grow alongside the club and ensure it catered to the current members.

She added that the MENA community at NU often feels underrepresented, both in surveys and physical space on campus.

Among the Multicultural Student Affairs staff, Hamed said, there are “point people” for different groups, such as the Black and Indigenous communities. These point people often advocate on behalf of student communities to the administration and help organize events.

After advocating to the President’s Office, Hamed said NU is adding a point person for the MENA community starting next school year.

“It’s really hard to be seen on the campus when you don’t have those little things that remind you that your existence matters and that your time here at Northwestern is supposed to be meant for you,” Hamed said.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @kaavya_butaney

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