Asha Prihar

Working toward gaining official recognition as a cultural center, the Middle Eastern and North African Cultural House Club held a launch on Friday — its first event since becoming an officially recognized student group.

The club, spearheaded by members of the Arab Students Association and other cultural groups with support from the Yale College Council, became a formally registered student organization in early February, according to MENA Club President Yasmin Alamdeen ’21. The group is advocating for the University to establish a full-fledged MENA cultural center. In the meantime, it plans to run programming similar to that of existing cultural centers — such as events, activities and a peer liaison program that is slated to begin next fall.

At Friday’s gathering in the Berkeley College common room, the group registered students for the MENA email panlist and collected signatures on a poster in support of the MENA cultural house initiative. Alamdeen said that the Club garnered over 50 signatures. The event featured other cultural organizations related to the MENA region, such as Students for Yemen, the Yale Muslim Student Association and the Yale Refugee Project. Attendees could also taste cuisine from the region and do traditional arts and crafts such as henna and calligraphy.

“This is essentially a glimpse for us of what it could be, and also a show of, ‘We are all the people who are going to come here to fight for this, because this deserves to happen on campus,’” Alamdeen said.

Arab Students Association President Shady Qubaty ’20, who has been advocating for a MENA cultural house with ASA and other student groups since last spring, said the turnout at the kickoff “exceeded expectations.” He also emphasized that given the YCC’s institutional support and connections with the overall student body, he believes the YCC’s role in organizing the event confirms that the establishment of a MENA cultural house is a “sustainable goal within the apparatus of Yale University as a whole.”

According to YCC Finance Director Kahlil Greene ’21, the kickoff was a “strategic” move. He explained that the event sought to catch the attention of students so that the club could follow up “with sustained programming,” such as a weekly coffee event similar to La Casa’s Cena a las Seis — an evening where a graduating senior member of the center shares their story.

Alamdeen added that the event was also a way to introduce the MENA cultural house initiative to the campus and garner broad support for it. Keon Azar ’22, a YCC business team member, highlighted that holding the event in the Berkeley common room — just yards away from Cross Campus — served to “increase [the club’s] presence in a central campus mindset” and put the issue at the forefront of campus discussion.

MENA Club Treasurer Demir Coker ’22 said that he hopes the event helped better acquaint the Yale community with MENA culture “in all its diversity.”

“We tried to encapsulate [Middle Eastern culture] in all of its beauty, and I think we did a pretty good job,” Coker said. “This is a very large community, and we would like to keep the issue salient.”

Coker added that as long as the issue of creating the cultural house is “salient,” he believes the group will be able to make the case for why creating a new cultural house would be valuable for the Yale community.

Malak Nasr ’19, a member of the ASA who has been helping the MENA club in an advisory capacity, said that she was glad to see the wide turnout for the event both for those who identify with MENA culture as well as those who were just interested in learning more about the region.

“So often this region gets associated with political turmoil, violence, sectarian conflict, all those things,” Nasr said. “A cultural house is fundamentally supposed to be something that celebrates cultural diversity, something that is politics-free, and this is the kind of launch event where we show and invite people to come celebrate our culture with us.”

The Native American Cultural Center — the youngest of the four cultural houses — opened its physical location at 26 High Street in fall 2013.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu

ASHA PRIHAR