Watch CBS News

Northwestern University MENA student association works to help remind students of Arab American Heritage Month

Northwestern University students mark Arab American Heritage Month 02:12

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) -- Did you know April is Arab-American Heritage Month? If you were not aware, some local college students are working to change that.

As we round out the month of April, CBS 2's Steven Graves shows us the immersive experience that aims to increase visibility.

At Northwestern University, a small nook has big significance at the university library. It transports students to one of Egypt's largest marketplaces, or a 'bazaar,' as it's known.

Also, books from Arab authors teach about identity and immigration. 

"It's overall very rewarding, and I'm really thankful for this community," said Sara Ibrahim, president of Northwestern's Middle Eastern North African, or MENA, Student Association.

The organization spearheaded this first-of-its-kind display.

Graves: "Why are you proud to be Arab-American?"

Eman Hamed: "I find an immense amount of pride in it."

Board members Hamed and Sama Ben Amer also helped lead an event called "Arab-Expressions" with music and poetry.  

"It offered a new perspective for non-Arab or MENA students to get a better understanding of Arab culture beyond what you see in the news headlines," Amer said.  

It's a push for visible and representation – after Arab American Heritage Month in April was just nationally recognized last year.  Only four states – including Illinois – officially acknowledge it on a state level.

Graves: "Can you just explain to people what it is like to not feel seen?"

Amer: "It's hurtful to just not see your identity on a census in general or any type of survey, but to just be classified as 'white' or 'other' without having white privilege is upsetting, and that's what MENA here at Northwestern is trying to fix."

MENA wants an alumni network, its own demographic group on university forms, and a space on campus. The point – to make it more inclusive for years to come. 

These women are laying the groundwork.

"I feel a tremendous weight," Ibrahim said. "We're really small, but very vibrant, very lively community."

It is estimated that Illinois is home to about 450,000 Arab Americans -- the fifth largest population in the nation. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.