This week marked the launch of a new initiative on campus, the Middle Eastern Cultural Programs.
The Daily Campus was lucky enough to connect with two members of the MECP team via email: program supervisor Neda Izadi and student coordinator Irene Soteriou.
“The [MECP] strive to foster connections between students, promote the education of Middle Eastern culture, celebrate the intersectionality of identities, and advocate for the professional development of students,” Soteriou explained. “MECP aligns itself with the University’s diversity commitment of cultural centers to provide vital resources in support of the social, behavioral, and cultural needs of students.”
The creation of this program has been a long time coming since it was a multi-year effort to just get the ball rolling.
“This process was initially spearheaded by students in the Middle Eastern Students Association (MESA), a club that exists on campus for Middle Eastern students,” Soteriou said.
“Verbal support for the creation of a Middle Eastern Cultural Center or Program ensued from MESA’s advocacy, but the project fell apart as the administration changed and MESA executive board members graduated.”
What really jump started the foundation of the program was the work of two recent graduates: Mateen Karimi and Noor Taweh. Karimi and Taweh both led research projects in 2020, which delved into the effects of a lack of a designated space for minority students and the benefits such a space provides. Their research brought the idea of developing the MECP back into the limelight.
“[Taweh] and [Karimi] teamed up [with] Lana Kareem, the former Vice President of the Middle Eastern Student Association, [and I]. Both [Kareem] and I had been advocating for a more formal space for Middle Eastern students on campus since our first year on campus, and this partnership allowed us to work with other students to finally achieve our collective objective,” Soteriou stated. “Together, we formed comprehensive proposals and petitions; created legislation that passed through the Undergraduate Student Government; and met with hundreds of students, faculty, staff, departments, and administrators. By the end of the 2021 spring semester, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion agreed to approve the creation of a formal space for students at the Storrs Campus. This space became the Middle Eastern Cultural Programs of today.”
The creation of such a program will have dramatic effects on the UConn community by connecting peers, empowering students and celebrating diversity.
“Our hope is that the MECP will develop into a space that Middle Eastern students at UConn can consider to be a second home — a space in which they create lifelong friendships and form priceless memories,” Soteriou said. “Exploration of one’s identity has come to constitute a fundamental element of the college experience, and yet post-9-11 societal dynamics have in many ways deterred a significant number of Middle Eastern students from comfortably doing so … It is our hope, therefore, that the existence of a formal space in which students are encouraged to connect and celebrate their diverse cultures will have the effect of empowering more Middle Eastern students to find greater community and more proudly embrace their identities.”
Izadi concurs this sentiment, elaborating on the program’s potential by saying, “This is a very unique program at UConn [as] many universities do not have a [program like the MECP]. [W]e can make a connection with other schools [throughout the USA] or even abroad [by] shar[ing] our experiences with them.”
Ultimately, this program has unlimited potential in the community and its creation will have long-lasting effects on the university’s students.
“[W]hat I am perhaps most excited about [with MECP] will be the community that I hope will come from it,” Soterious said. “All of my friends who are active in their respective cultural centers, from AACC to PRLACC, attest to having formed what they feel to be a second family through their experiences. I am really looking forward to seeing this same dynamic develop within the MECP.”