Young Arab leaders unite to form new community on campus

Map and flags of Arab countries

Suffolk University’s Young Arab Leaders Association (YALA) was established on campus in 2015. While the club has not been very active since it was first created, Suffolk students started to revamp the club this year.

YALA vice president Fehr AlMehdar, a senior Suffolk student from Saudi Arabia majoring in advertising, explained that he is working with other e-board members in the club to hold more activities and bring more attention to the club.

While the club does not have weekly meetings, AlMehdar explained that the club has held various community building events such as pizza  and game nights.

In addition to having light-hearted and fun events, YALA also takes their role as young Arab leaders seriously and holds informative events as well.

YALA values educating others on the complicated and often under-explained aspects of Arab culture. Last semester, the club held a documentary screening event called “The Politics of Hate and Israel’s Ultimate Other.”

The event presented a documentary examining the hate towards Israel’s Palestinian citizens and how different state systems allow for fear and hatred towards Palestinian-Arabs in Israel.

Based on all the contention and political discourse surrounding the Middle East, YALA prioritizes educating the Suffolk community on the events within the region and the politics that have shaped Arab culture into what it is today.

In the upcoming weeks, YALA’s main goal for the semester is to put together a clothing drive for refugees in the Middle East.

“We’ve been really trying to do stuff for refugees and it is supposed to be happening in the upcoming weeks where we have boxes all over campus for students to donate clothes,” said AlMehdar.

When May rolls around and students move out of the dorms, clothing items that can’t fit or aren’t needed anymore are typically thrown away. AlMehdar explained how frustrated he feels seeing all of these clothes thrown away.

“A big issue I’ve personally seen through my time here especially when leaving the dorms, you find a lot of clothes that are thrown away so this is a way for people to throw it in the clothes pantry around campus,” said AlMehdar.

Professor of communications and journalism Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber is the adviser for YALA. She explained why it is so important for young Arabs to have a community like YALA.

“With the reality of growing anti-Arab sentiments, especially post 9/11, it’s important for young Arab leaders to have a sense of community to experience their shared identity,” said Madmoni-Gerber.  “YALA provides one space where this shared identity can be expressed [through events, speakers, films, art].”

Madmoni-Gerber shares a similar identity with many of her own students on campus. She speaks Arabic and grew up being exposed to Arab culture.

“This is very important to me because I share this identity with my students. I define myself as an Arab Jew,” said Madmoni-Gerber. “My parents are from Yemen and throughout my childhood I was exposed to the Arabic language and Arab culture. Arab culture is part of who I am.”

Madmoni-Gerber has been an inspiration for many of her students. She advocates for a well-connected Arab community on campus and is looking forward to what the club will do.

The club also aims to educate others about Arab culture. On Feb. 4, YALA hosted a small event during activities period, “Games and Pizza Day,” which turned into a huge success by informing the Suffolk community about the club.

“Mainly it is through word of mouth, who we know and posters. It is difficult to set a specific time to meet each week,” said AlMehdar. “What we are doing right now is focusing on big events like the Syrian drive and it is something I’ve been really hopeful about.”

YALA is currently utilizing various social media accounts such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook in order to draw more attention to their organization.

In addition to AlMehdar as the club’s vice president, other E-board members include president Razan Balobid, treasurer Salman Binmahfouz and secretary Mohammed Alghannam.