When Hala Shabaita ’24 got to campus last year, like many first-year students, she started looking for clubs to join. As a Palestinian international student, she looked to see what cultural organizations existed, hoping to find a club for Middle Eastern students. She found other cultural organizations but not one for students from the Middle East and North Africa. She became active in other clubs, including Carls Act and Women of Color, but still wanted to find more of a community for Middle Eastern students and decided that eventually she wanted to create one.
Sabrine Shanaa ’22 said that she noticed the classes of 2024 and 2025 both have more Middle Eastern students. “My freshman year, there were maybe four of us,” said Shanaa, who is Arab American. While she had previously been involved in the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and became a board member of the club her first year at Carleton, she was glad to see more Middle Eastern students on campus and felt it was important for there to be a more of a community.
While studying abroad in the fall, Shanaa got an email from a sophomore friend she met through MSA. “He didn’t feel like there was a strong Middle Eastern and North African student presence on campus. The only thing that we had was MSA, and that’s not specific to the Middle East,” Shanaa said. “I think he is the one who felt most strongly about [starting a club].”
The Middle Eastern and North African student organization (MENA) now has an active email list and Instagram account (@carleton_mena) where they posted an advertisement for their first event in which they invited students to watch the Africa Cup of Nations soccer final between Egypt and Senegal. According to the Instagram post, the event was co-hosted with the African Caribbean Organization.
“I thought it was cool to get to know the ACA students,” Shanaa said. “A lot of Middle Eastern students were there as well.”
This Saturday, MENA plans to host their first major event. Because food holds particular importance in many Middle Eastern cultures, the event will include traditional Middle Eastern food. It may also involve a Kahoot with random facts about the Middle East or another activity, with the goal of starting to build a community of Middle Eastern and North African students.
“I’m excited to see who turns up,” Shanaa said. “We had like 25 responses to it, which was much more than we were expecting.”
Students who attend the event will have the opportunity to meet new people and share what they hope to gain from MENA. “We want to kickstart the organization and get people involved and get the word out,” Shabaita said.
The primary goal of MENA will be to bring together students from the Middle East and North Africa and create a chance for them to interact with each other in a safe space. It also intends to create awareness about students’ histories, backgrounds and cultures.
The club eventually hopes to get into social justice activism in order to raise awareness about issues in the Middle East and North Africa and common stereotypes, but that’s something they plan to add during either next term or next year. In the meantime, the MENA board will meet weekly and plans to host a few events during each term.
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