Arab Student Union strives to encourage cultural expression

Dylan Lizza

Every Wednesday, members of Wilson’s Arab Student Union (ASU) assemble in room 325. Last week, after completing the agenda for the day—sorting through clothes from their necessities drive and designing posters to showcase members’ countries and cultures—founder Karam Weigert spoke about the ASU’s formation, mission, and goals.

“The idea came to my mind mainly because I feel like not everyone at Wilson really has a voice,” Weigert said. “I feel like Arabs, specifically in this country, have a very tumultuous relationship with this idea of expression. The Arab Student Union is created to be a safe space for Arab students, and really anybody who wants to support the Arab cause.”

The ASU, which was created in November of this school year, aims to give students a way to express themselves by giving them “a megaphone,” Weigert explained. “The purpose is to provide a place where everyone can really express their own personal and political opinions.” 

One way the ASU plans to express Arab culture is through cultural immersion nights. “I’d really like to hold a type of potluck community-type-of activity where we can sit down, watch traditional movies, or just eat food and enjoy music. Because really, what we do need is a sense of community, and everyone deserves a sense of community,” Weigert said. 

Along with creating a strong community and voice for Arab-American students, the ASU is also invested in local projects that will support Arab-Americans in need. 

“So right now, the most notable thing that we put most of our energy towards is this clothing drive [for Afghan refugees],” Weigert said. The drive ran from January 6 to February 11, and the ASU asked students to donate gently used clothing and essentials to support displaced Afghans. The drive was a huge success, with the group accumulating bags of clothes ready to donate.

The ASU also intends to educate their peers on Arab issues and culture. On flyers for their Arab Student Union Necessities drive, they make sure to mention the issues causing the forced displacement of millions of Afghans. A core objective is to educate the community about commonly misunderstood issues and prevent stereotypes and prejudice that stem from people being uninformedor misinformedabout the Arab experience. 

Another ASU plan is to celebrate Arab-American Heritage Month in April. Weigert explained how he wants to use the opportunity “to educate people about the experiences of being an Arab in a country that fundamentally misunderstands your culture and has played a direct role in creating the reason why we are here in the first place.” One proposal brought up during their February 2 meeting was to do segments during the morning announcements over the course of April, where students could talk about their countries, cultures, and experiences as Arabs.

The ASU is not only fighting for the Arab cause, but also is uniting with the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and the Black Student Union (BSU) to fight against discrimination and hate speech within Wilson. 

“We’ve been meeting with the Jewish Union, the Black Student Union, with Mr. Bargeman, to create an effective community response to the recent rise in hate crimes and hate speech and graffiti in the bathroom,” Weigert said.“It’s unacceptable and it has real impacts on people.”

The plan is to hold student-led seminars discussing issues of hate speech and discrimination, and how they can be combatted.

“One of [the ASU, the BSU, and the JSU’s] proposals to help combat the use of hate speech at Wilson is to dig into the root of it, which is ignorance on these issues, like the origins of hate crimes and certain phrases which have been thrown around lackadaisically here.” 

The ASU places emphasis on having students leading these campaigns, making sure that their voices are being heard.

Weigert also discussed how everyone can educate themselves on Arab issues by reading books or reading the news and learning what’s actually happening. This can help avoid having “a misconstrued idea of what the Arab world looks like because of movies and media portrayal,” Weigert stated.

“For people who want to learn more about the ASU—we’re a fun group. And they should really just come stop by,” Weigert said. 

Weigert concluded by saying, “I invite everyone to come to the Arab Student Union, regardless if you’re Arab or not. Because the more people we have, the more things we can do, and the best way to educate people is by hearing the experiences of others, through their own voices.” •