Middle Eastern students at Syracuse University need physical space on campus

My mother immigrated from Iran to the United States when she was only 16 years old. At that age, I didn’t quite understand how valuable it was to be completely immersed in my culture, which my mother feverishly kept alive in my home. Growing up Iranian-American meant baking Christmas cookies and watching Home Alone were closely tied to our annual Shabe Yalda dinner, a celebration that fell on the longest night of the year and filled the house with Persian music and family.

For a while, I took for granted how closely my parents kept the two cultures together and how involved I felt in the traditions and heritage that my mother inundated me with over the years. Although I come from a hometown where meeting another Middle Eastern person my age, let alone another Iranian, was a rarity, celebrating the holidays and bonding around a shared culture with the handful of Persian friends I had was a warm familiarity and sharing traditions with friends from other cultures was a privilege.

With the transition to Syracuse University came the hope that there would be a larger community of Middle Eastern students here, waiting with open arms. Instead, I faced the disappointment of a Persian club that only existed in the SU website search engine. I quickly realized how the University’s attention to Middle Eastern culture as a whole began and ended with an academic program in Middle Eastern Studies.

While an opportunity to learn more about the history of these cultures is an important step, there is remarkable power in connecting with those who share something as ingrained as their culture. Middle Eastern students at SU deserve and have been denied the ability to provide comfort and familiarity through shared flavors, phrases, or nuances within a culture.

I’ve been fortunate enough to happily connect with other students from the Middle East and even Persia here, but those yearning for a community that shares cultural ties shouldn’t have to cross their fingers and hope they will be “lucky enough”. to find others like them.

A university that has SU resources and funds should strive to create a space or network to facilitate the connection of its student population from the Middle East. A space where celebrating cultural festivals can be done in the company of others and where friendships can be made through this deep similarity.

While not every Middle Eastern student at SU desires a space like this, I can’t help but imagine how much easier the transition here would have been had I been able to meet a group of people based on something I didn’t have to be good at or enjoy doing, if I was welcomed into a community based solely on my background.

As an institution that values ​​diversity and inclusion, SU has an obligation to establish a physical space on campus that helps and encourages the coming together of its students from the Middle East.
The League has taken similar steps in the past, such as creating Euclid 119 for black students, and has more than enough funds to provide Middle Eastern students with physical space. It would give students the necessary feeling of being at home away from home.

Having a community for Middle Eastern students doesn’t just mean making friends or creating a smoother transition for new students. It is a sign of recognition from the school. Although it should have been in place a long time ago, the League must establish space for a culture and a group of people who deserve the same attention as others on campus.

Roxana Berentes, Class of 2025

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