EDITOR'S NOTE: Eastern Michigan University's 15,000 students arrive in Ypsilanti from 50 states, and 83 countries, bringing with them diverse cultures and backgrounds. To explore that diversity, this article is the first in a series on campus organizations designed to highlight and share the beauty of cultures from around the world.
This week: The Arab Society
Next week: International Student Association
What started as an idea about six months ago has finally become a reality, as Eastern Michigan University’s Arab Society hosted its first event Thursday, Sept. 22.
Syrian-American EMU alumni Ahmad Zalt founded The Arab Society earlier this year alongside Lebanese student Maitham Khanafer, an EMU senior studying dietetics. Because EMU students come from a diverse array of countries and backgrounds, members of this new student organization have goals to educate the campus community on their culture.
“We noticed that we have a huge population of Arabs on campus coming from different places, so it was a way to unite everyone and spread our culture with everyone on campus,” Khanafer said. “Our culture is beautiful. We are very diverse, even though we speak the same language.”
Khanafer leads the student organization’s executive board, serving as president on a team with Egyptian Somaya Eissa serving as vice president, Yemeni Ziad Sabri serving as secretary, Jordanian Hamzah Dajani serving as treasurer and member at large, Palestinian AbdurRahman Elder.
“We started the Arabic society because we wanted to share the Arabic culture and make more people more educated about how things go in the Arab world,” Sabri said. “I think it’s important because there are a lot of Arab people here, so why not learn about them?”
The Arab Society’s welcome night attracted many students to EMU’s amphitheater to participate in and view a talent consisting of traditional Arabic music and dance, along with cultural activities and refreshments.
The organization’s first event helped showcase the differences between Arab culture and other cultures on campus.
“The biggest difference between Arabic and American culture, definitely comes down to, it’s fundamental, collectivism versus individualism,“ Zalt said.
Zalt feels this collectivist approach is shown in many Arab values and beliefs. One example he described is that it is very common for meals to be shared with the neighborhood and even for neighbors to visit unannounced.
In the organization’s welcome event specifically, Zalt feels that the Arab culture of community was demonstrated by the talent show, which showcased people other than board members, as well as the conclusion of the event, where the audience participated in an open dance.
“With this organization, we plan to continue to share the beautiful things form our culture with the people at Eastern,“ Zalt said. “We’re very happy to do these events for everyone, to share, and continue to learn.”
In the future, the group plans to host a game night, a dine and donate, and other events with “Arabic spice,“ Sabri said. Any donations collected will help the organization with funding and aid poor Middle Eastern countries.
“Since we have a group now, we have an avenue to share the beauty of our culture,“ Khanafer said. “I’ve gotten to meet so many people. So many people are reaching out. We’re reaching out to new people. I think that’s the best part, meeting new people.”
Sabri said people should join The Arab Society not just to have fun and learn more about Arab culture but to make the most of their campus life and college experience.
“Since we’re a new organization, we are trying to set the standard for the upcoming years and leave a footprint on campus,“ Khanafer said. “Even though we’re an organization for Arabs, it’s for everyone, we wanna share what we have with everyone on campus, and that’s one of our main goals.”