First Campus-Based Arab American Cultural Center
By Nadine Naber, ARABAMCC Founding Director
Just last year, in a historic move, the University of Illinois at Chicago opened the first Arab American Cultural Center on a college campus. The Arab American Cultural Center grew out decades of Arab and Muslim student organizing at UIC, renewed in 2014 by a network of faculty and staff. This network recognized that UIC is home to a large population of Arab American students whose needs and experiences had been virtually overlooked by campus diversity and social justice initiatives. In 2016, students began discussions with the UIC Chancellor Amiridis about issues impacting Arab American students including an incident where one student activist received a death threat. Students were particularly concerned about their safety given the growing environment of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in the U.S. surrounding the presidential election and its aftermath. They also expressed a host of needs related to international Arabic speaking students, access to campus resources, and the limited levels of teaching and research about the contemporary Arab region and the Middle East as well as Arab and Muslim Americans at UIC. That same year, Chancellor Amiridis approved the opening of the ARABAMCC.
Today, the ARABAMCC is a thriving space where students, faculty, and staff work together to build community, meet the needs of our students and establish coalitions committed to social justice across campus. Through cultural and educational programming, the ARABAMCC educates the campus about Arab and Arab American histories and experiences. ARABAMCC’s Layali Al Fan [Art Nights] series has included a grafiti-making activity inspired by the Egyptian revolution of 2011; debkah, comic, and cooking workshops; film festivals; and celebrations of cultural resilience in Iraq, Palestine,and beyond. Our Halakat Nikash [Discussion Circles] cover themes like The “Muslim Ban;” Arab-Black Solidarity; Gender Violence; and challenging the stigma around “Mental Health.”
ARABAMCC founders and staff were especially proud to host the first Arab American graduation on the UIC campus in 2017 and to see over two hundred guests fill the room. On that memorable day, a Palestinian Zaffeh group led the graduates into the room followed by a breathtaking performance by Egyptian poet, Matthew Shenodah. At the end of the evening, the Dean of Undergraduate Students with several faculty joined students, relatives, and community members were on the dance floor celebrating with our students.
These students’ words exemplify the remarkable feedback the ARABAMCC continues to receive from students, guests, administrators and community members:
Arab American Cultural Center felt like a home away from home, where I didn’t have to justify my accent or show where my country is on Google Maps. I’m grateful that UIC has recognized the need for a safe space for Arab students to celebrate their culture together and support each other at a difficult time. – Perla Shebli
I have to say, walking into Stevenson Hall and being faced with the wall of Arab flags on the center’s window brought tears to my eyes. For the first time, I no longer felt like an alien in a sea of students.
The ARABAMCC has many projects underway, including a research study about the needs of Arab and Muslim students at UIC and a campaign that seeks to challenge the invisibility of Arab Americans within government and campus forms; diversity initiatives; and programs related to access to resources. We have developed a buddy system to support international students and we serve as “first responders” when it comes to discrimination cases.
Our work is made possible through support from the UIC Office of Diversity and many campus partners. Yet achieving our goals also requires ongoing fundraising and community-based support. The ARABAMCC invites you to help the ARABAMCC achieve its mission and vision by donating, using the link below.
Please note the ARABAMCC is hiring our first full time director (job applications are due April 1)
Mission and Vision
The Arab American Cultural Center seeks to affirm the diverse needs of Arab and Muslim students; to increase awareness about Arab and Muslim cultures and histories; and to build community, solidarity, and safe spaces through the arts and culture, while promoting social justice, equality, and inclusivity at UIC and the Chicagoland area.
For more information, please see: www.arabamcc.uic.edu