On Miami’s campus, there exists an Indian Students Association, an Asian American Student Association, an African Students’ Union and many others. But until recently, there wasn’t an organization representing Miami’s Middle Eastern student population.
This semester, the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) held its first meeting as an organization at Miami. Junior political science and strategic communication double major Omar Elghazawi noticed there was no Middle Eastern organization on campus and started the process of establishing the one last semester.
“When I first got to Miami and noticed there was no Middle Eastern culture org, I had always thought about starting my own,” Elghazawi wrote in an email to the Miami Student. “It’s very hard and timely when starting a new student organization. It’s important to be sure that you’re starting an organization you truly want to succeed.”
One of the goals of the organization is to create both a community and representation for Middle Eastern and Arab students at Miami.
“I just want a place where Middle Eastern and Arab students can feel welcome and have a space for themselves, and where we as an organization can be a voice for those students and represent them,” Elghazawi wrote. “In the future, we are doing a lot of events centered around Arab culture, and I’d just like to see more people learn about who we are as a culture.”
The members of the organization are not all Middle Eastern; some who just want to learn about the Middle East. For Elghazawi, one of the most enjoyable aspects of MESA, from just the first meeting, is the sense of community within the organization.
“We’ve had a good mix of Arab and non-Arab students curious about Arab culture,” Elghazawi wrote. “It feels relaxed during our meetings, you have a huge sense of camaraderie.”
Elghazawi reflected on being Middle Eastern and attending Miami and how it motivated him to organize MESA.
“[Being Middle Eastern] helped me see things a lot more clearly for what they are in terms of things people say or do in regards to multiculturalism and diversity and inclusion on campus,” Elghazawi wrote. “It's helped open my eyes to a lot of stuff on this campus that people often don't talk about, and I hope that MESA is able to talk about those things and what we can do to help others feel more comfortable on this campus.”
Junior political science major Shams Al Khafaji, who joined MESA’s executive board as secretary, looks forward to creating representation for Middle Eastern students at Miami.
“I probably know a total of 10 Arab students at Miami,” Al Khafaji said. “When I saw that MESA was coming to campus, I was so excited because we need that representation of our ... small group at Miami.”
Although they are currently only able to meet on Zoom, the executive board has many plans for the organization.
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“After COVID, it would be interesting to have a food day with other organizations and everyone brings food from their own nation,” Al Khafaji said. “In the Middle East, there’s a lot of dances for each country that are popular so having that or, like, music would be really interesting to do.”
She hopes MESA will empower students with knowledge about the Middle East to help erase the stigma surrounding the region.
“There’s a stigma around the Middle East and how it’s so dangerous and, like, you can’t go there,” Al Khafaji said. “The Middle East is a beautiful, beautiful place.”
Al Khafaji lived in Libya until she was 10, and then Turkey, before moving to the US when she was 12.
“I had a friend that gave me a 9/11 shirt and I took it as a joke, just because I didn’t want to make it a big deal,” Al Khafaji said. “It was these little tiny jokes that people think, ‘Oh it’s just a joke.’”
Al Khafaji hopes MESA will help Middle Eastern and Arab students find a community at Miami.
“As a student of color in general and as an Arabic student at Miami, it’s pretty tough because you don’t see people that look like you very much,” Al Khafaji said. “When we had our meeting, like, I didn’t even know we had that many Arab students.”
The organization’s members are a combination of Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern students.
“The student that asked me how to say ‘Hi my name is’ wasn’t even Middle Eastern. He was just interested and he was talking about how he wanted to learn about Arabic food and he wants to cook it,” Al Khafaji said. “It’s just really exciting because obviously Middle Eastern students want to be in this, but seeing non-Middle Eastern students just interested in the region and wanting to learn about it excites me.”
Al Khafaji and Elghazawi look forward to MESA having a lasting effect on diversity and inclusion at Miami.
“I’m excited to see more organizations like this on campus to [help] people feel more included,” Al Khafaji said.
The club meets biweekly on Wednesdays. Their next meeting will be on March 3 at 5 p.m. on Zoom.