Members of the University of Redlands Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) gather weekly with a mission to spread awareness about Muslim culture on campus. One of the ways the group does this is by hosting an annual event called A Taste of the Middle East.
“It’s an event where students can come and learn about Middle Eastern culture,” says MESA president Michaela Syage ’19. “Last year we had a henna station, a bracelet making booth, Middle Eastern and Arab food, and belly dancers. It was a great way for people to engage with a different culture and it was a huge success.”
This year's Taste of the Middle East event is on March 28, and planning is in full swing. "We're really looking forward to this year's Taste of the Middle East," says Syage, who started planning for the event in November 2018.
The group also brought a speaker to campus last fall, thanks to a gift from alumnus Rashid Ghazi ’89. After reviewing a list of speakers recommended by Ghazi, Syage chose Sue Obeidi, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Hollywood bureau.
When she was on campus, Obeidi discussed the power that television and film have to influence the way audience members see and feel about each other, specifically within the framework of Muslim culture. “Sue was a great speaker and offered thought-provoking conversation,” Syage says.
Ghazi, who was himself president of the Associated Students of the University of Redlands (ASUR) as a student, has an interest in film and directed an award-winning documentary titled Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football, released in 2011. Currently a partner at Paragon Marketing Group in Illinois, he wanted to give back to the University and further the conversation about Muslims in entertainment.
Syage is hopeful that MESA will host more speakers in the future. In the meantime, the seven-member club is working to recruit new members and raise funds. Syage, who will graduate in April, feels like she is leaving the club in good hands. She notes that the club holds an important place in campus culture by informing students of issues in the Middle East and challenging commonly held stereotypes about the Muslim community.
“Being a part of MESA has given me a sense of belonging on campus,” she says. “I’m half Palestinian and half Italian and have always felt more in touch with my Italian side. I’ve become more interested in my Middle Eastern heritage and culture and feel more connected to where my family came from.”
Learn more about U of R's student clubs and organizations.