MENA Society week of events bring life to Arab culture at Baruch

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

The Middle Eastern & North African Society of Baruch College celebrated its first semester on campus with events throughout the week of April 24.

Shuffling into a small non-express elevator in the William Newman Vertical Campus, members of the MENA Society chanted with excitement for the latter event as they turned NVC 11-130 into a “Maljis,” which is an Arabic term that refers to a sitting room for social gatherings.

Rewatching a video with the members inside the non-express elevator, Du’a Zaid told The Ticker the moment “really encapsulated MENA culture.”

The club partnered with the Armenia Society of Baruch to host a potluck lunch with regional dishes and board games on April 25.

The collaboration was followed by a storytelling event on April 27 in which students shared personal stories from their time in the regions.

“We wanted the MENA students to get together, just sit and literally talk, like a storytelling time, which happens often in MENA culture,” Hanan Abisse, the marketing chair of MENA Society, told The Ticker. “We wanted to connect that aspect to the culture and have basically a seating area. Then, we treat them as guests, give them drinks and little refreshments.”

Attendees told stories tied to their cultural identity as they were served slices of knafeh, a traditional dessert that originates from Palestine.

While not everybody in MENA countries identifies as Arab, Abisse said these people are connected by Arab culture and share cultural similarities, including the Arabic language.

Saad Shuaib, a member of the club, noted that “there’s a lot of potential in creating meaningful impact on our campus community in a way that can benefit not only the club but the people attending them.”

Students said the club is not exclusively for Arab students, and it welcomes all who want to understand and celebrate the culture.

“We, as Arab people, thrive on our hospitality and love for the rest of the world,” Zaid,told The Ticker. “Therefore, I wanted it to become a society beyond our borders.”

Elias Diab, who is the MENA Society’s co-vice president, said he started the club as a group chat on WhatsApp during the fall 2021 semester.

Zaid, a Yemeni student in her first year at Baruch, said she noticed that despite the presence of Arab students attending Baruch there was a lack of an Arab community on campus. She found out about the group chat in the fall of 2022 through an Arab friend.

As a member of the Muslim Student Association, Zaid could meet other Muslim women but not necessarily other Arab women, explaining that “the identity of being Arab is not synonymous with being Muslim,” given the presence of Arab Christians and Arab Jews.

“I really wanted to find an area where we can celebrate our culture,” Zaid said.

She met Diab and shared her interest in turning MENA Society into a student organization recognized by the Office of Student Life.

Zaid formed an executive board, launched the club’s Instagram and energized the group chat, but the members were challenged by the office’s pause on the acceptance of new club applications.

When it heard the office would reopen the application process for new clubs between March 13 and April 14, MENA Society moved forward with paperwork to formalize the organization, eventually submitting its confirmation.

The members made the club’s existence known by holding a general interest meeting on March 9 and inviting students to come to campus with keffiyeh scarves on March 23, coinciding with the first day of Ramadan.

The club had limited time and resources to host its own events, especially with no funding, budget or room availability.

In addition to holding two-and-a-half-hour planning sessions with the board through spring break, Zaid said she pulled favors through supportive members of other clubs, including those from the Armenian Society.

To the success of Zaid’s work ethic, she was delighted by the energy the club’s members brought during the first two meetings.

“I’m always just so overwhelmed by the amount of people that show up,” Zaid said. “It started off so small. I didn’t expect it to get this big, and I think my favorite part of these events is the ‘show up’ for these events, they always hit the 30 mark, like 30 people. Sometimes more people come, and then sometimes we have to turn them down because the room only fits so much people.”

For the next academic year, the club hopes to hold more events that educate students about misconceptions about the region and highlight entertaining aspects of Arab culture.

In addition to having an event where members tell ghost, or jinn, stories, MENA Society member Abdul Aziz added that he would love to participate in a fundraiser for Arab countries that are in need but don’t receive enough attention.

Zaid said she would like to host an event in which members design tote bags inspired by embroidered Palestinian dresses.

“Our existence as MENA people has been overlooked and misunderstood, politically and socially,” Zaid said. “I really try to emphasize education with this club while making it exciting and fun, the way a college club should be.”