Youth Organizing Program team visits Marquette University
When the Youth Organizing Program (YOP) team visited Marquette University on April 15th, they were struck by the apparent lack of diversity on the campus. They’d been invited by the school’s Muslim Students Association to take part in Islam Awareness Week by visiting AAAN board member Louise Cainkar’s class on Arabs and Muslims in America and guest-starring in an evening spoken word event—“I-slam”—in a campus coffee shop.
Though the campus is majority white, the YOP team spent time with mostly students of color from the school’s Arab and Muslim population, and race was a theme throughout the day. They began the presentation in Cainkar’s class by doing a check-in with the prompt “A time I experienced oppression was…” One Lebanese student described how his teacher in high school accused him of being responsible for high gas prices, and confronted him about it on a regular basis during class. A woman who was the “only brown person” at a Catholic school said administrators called a meeting with her parents after 9/11, in which they suggested that they remove her from the school “for her own safety.” Cainkar mentioned not being hired in academia because she studies Arabs.
The YOP team explained that check-ins with interesting and creative prompts are a staple of the AAAN youth program, which aims to “help youth understand their identity and feel comfortable in their own skin, and understand the issues that affect them,” according to coordinator Gihad Ali. “Our goal,” she said, “is not to create the very best [spoken word/ hip hop] performer,” but to help youth grow and gain confidence.
Bringing it back to Chapter 5 of Cainkar’s book “Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11,” the class talked about how identity is affected by the way people are represented in society. “Our youth are vulnerable to these anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes; some of them coming into the program have not wanted to identify as Arab or Muslim,” Ali said. “Arabs aren’t in the history textbooks. So if they’re learning about themselves, it’s through the media. Some will identify strongly as Arab but won’t know anything about the Arab world, or with Palestine but won’t know anything about the Occupation.”
“That’s why,” said YOP team member Muhammad Sankari, “we talk about what it means to be a person of color and what place [being connected to where our families are from] means.”