Middle Eastern and North African student group honored for collective impact

· 5 min read

Middle Eastern and North African student group honored for collective impact

MENA members accept the Collective Impact award from Marco Barker (center), vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion. Pictured with Barker is (from left) Shahla Abrahim, Furqan Mahdi, Sara Al-Rishawi and Hassan Almokhreq.
MENA members accept the Collective Impact award from Marco Barker (center), vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion. Pictured with Barker is (from left) Shahla Abrahim, Furqan Mahdi, Sara Al-Rishawi and Hassan Almokhreq.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln recently honored six individuals and one student organization during its annual Nebraska Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awards.

Organized by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the honors recognize individuals and groups who actively advance diversity, equity and inclusion in transformative and sustainable ways on campus and in the community.

The University Communication and Marketing team reached out to the honorees to learn more about what drives them to help build a more inclusive community on campus and in the broader community. The series continues with the executive members of the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association. A recognized student organization, MENA received the Collective Impact award, an honor that recognizes outstanding contributions by a unit or organization on campus.

MENA was founded in 2020 by three Huskers with the intent to create a home for all Middle Eastern and North African students on campus. The group also aims to spread awareness about culture and support the broader community on and off campus.

The MENA team has been proactive, reaching out to underrepresented groups, including immigrant communities, international students and minority students on campus. Their programming includes a Refugee event that taught students about the refugee and immigrant experience; Feast with the Middle East, an opportunity to learn about diversity across regions represented by the student group; and its annual Diversity Celebration, which highlights diversity on campus and introduces the campus community to university’s multicultural organizations.

Answers for this Q&A were provided as a team by the MENA executive members.

What does receiving the Collective Impact Award mean to the Middle Eastern and Northern African Student Association?

As executive members of MENA, we can say that receiving the Collective Impact Award means a great deal to us. This award recognizes our collective efforts in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus, and it validates the impact we have made in creating a welcoming and supportive community for Middle Eastern and North African students, and students of all backgrounds and identities on campus. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our members, who have worked tirelessly to create a home for all Middle Eastern and North African students on campus and to promote cultural awareness and understanding. Receiving this award also gives us a greater sense of purpose and motivation to continue our work and expand our impact and we hope that this recognition will help us to reach more students and build stronger partnerships with other organizations on campus to further our mission of creating a diverse, inclusive, and supportive community. We are honored to receive this award and grateful for the opportunity to continue making a positive difference at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

As executive members of MENA, our lifetime goals include advocating for underrepresented groups and increasing their representation in leadership roles. We aim to continue to collaborate with other organizations to create more inclusive events and programming on college campuses and promote cross-cultural understanding. We also hope to engage in advocacy work to promote social justice and equal rights for all individuals, regardless of their background or identity., through the various career paths we all plan on going into This includes working to address systemic issues such as racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination that continue to persist in our society. Ultimately, our goals are to help create a more equitable and just world where everyone can reach their full potential and live fulfilling lives.

What or who inspires you?

We find inspiration in the resilience and determination of the diverse communities that we represent as our members come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, each with their own unique experiences and challenges. Witnessing their stories of overcoming adversity and fighting for their rights is truly inspiring and motivates us to continue working growing MENA and working towards a more equitable and inclusive society. We are also inspired by the many civil rights leaders who have fought for social justice and equality throughout history, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, and leaders like Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid in South Africa, and Khaleda Jarrar, a Palestinian human rights lawyer and politician, are just a few examples of individuals who have dedicated their lives to promoting justice and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities. Furthermore, youth-led movements like those led by Malala Yousafzai and Muna El-Kurd demonstrate that age isn’t a barrier to making a difference and challenging the status quo. Overall, our sources of inspiration are diverse and constantly evolving, but the common thread that unites them is the pursuit of justice, equity, and inclusion for all.

What is your advice to others looking to make an impact?

Our advice to others looking to make an impact is to start small and focus on the issues that you are most passionate about. Educate yourself on the root causes of the issue and seek out ways to get involved, whether it be through volunteering, organizing, or advocacy and it’s also important to collaborate with others and build a network of support. These are all pieces of advice that we have taken and used to be able to get to where we are today as an organization and will use to continue to grow. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new approaches and remember that change is often a slow and ongoing process. Lastly, take care of yourself and prioritize self-care to avoid burnout and stay motivated for the long haul.

Learn more about the awards and honorees in Nebraska Today.

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