ROLE: Executive Director
Prior to moving to California, I separated my identities quite aggressively. The necessity to converge these two identities was never apparent as my family was one of the few Arab families in the Cuyahoga Valley and the probability of running into a Midwesterner by the Dead Sea was close to zero.
These tight-knit communities treated me similarly. I looked different in Ohio but grew up as a peer and confidant to town natives from PreK to 12th grade, volunteered at the downtown library, and ran the school pep rallies. Overseas, I looked the same as the general public but felt different due to my antithetical upbringing in a Western nation. I lacked an understanding of how religion and tribal dynamics affected everyday decisions. Despite these contrasts, I strongly felt like a community member in both. The people and structures were stagnant, and I simply blended into both as needed.
When I began my education at UC Berkeley, those two identities converged as I found myself surrounded by Middle Eastern Americans. I quickly learned a similar set of characteristics, stories, and struggles, and delved deeper into the community that was diasporic on campus in addition to around the world. Moving from the outskirts of Cleveland to an immigrant hub, San Francisco, I saw a lack of comradeship when a demographic wasn’t confined to a minute location or the same bloodline. Middle Eastern students had internal turmoil balancing scattered families while building their own. They felt a discord between cultural norms and American ideals, and experienced a crisis of character as Western media demonized our people and belief systems. Recognizing the need for fellowship, I led a group of my peers in building a recruitment and retention center for Middle Eastern and North African youth at UC Berkeley - particularly for refugees, low-income and first-generation students.
The center created a number of challenges during its development. Ameliorating conflicts between expat leaders while their countries were warring overseas tested my communication and resolution skills. I had to quickly discern viewpoints and idiosyncrasies of subcommunities from Egyptian Coptic Christians to the Iranian Bahais, and the differences between how Gulf states practice Islam and the North African tribes. These understandings were crucial in creating partnerships with outside population hubs in order to optimize in-need student recruitment as well as create an inclusive space for students to organize. I faced many challenges, including having to repeatedly justify why the center needed funding from outside organizations, government officials, and grant officers who had limited knowledge on Middle Eastern issues, denying funding at any chance. Repeatedly, I demonstrated the needs that were not met by other community centers and the need for a center that accommodated the specific struggles of students from the Middle Eastern diaspora.
This is why we recreated the space at UC Berkeley as "Middle Eastern North African Recruitment and Retention Center in Spring 2015. During my time leading this center, I secured 10 times its original allocated university funding by writing grants and advocating for department sponsorship. I also expanded our outreach to include Iranians, Armenians, and Turkish students. In Fall 2016, I became its Executive Director and fought for equal UC Proposition 3 funding, securing continuous annual money to support mass recruitment weekends of low-income, 1st generation, or refugee Middle Eastern North African high school and community college students. Now the center is still on the rise, you can keep track of its progress with the social media links below!