Newly-established Middle Eastern Student Association looks to cement themselves in the APU community.
In the fall of 2019, Angela Setrakian began her freshman year at Azusa Pacific University. She is of Armenian descent, and throughout her time at APU, had not seen much Middle Eastern representation on campus.
While APU has the Armenian Student Association, Setrakian wanted to see more representation for Middle Eastern students as well. Leading her to create APU’s newest ethnic organization: the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA).
“I wanted there to be Middle Eastern representation,” Setrakian said. “I also wanted it to be a place for students who aren’t Middle Eastern to learn about our cultures because there are so many misconceptions about the Middle East and the people. It’s so unfortunate, but I’m here to change that.”
Setrakian created MESA in the fall of 2020 and currently serves as the association’s president. She has begun hosting online meetings for the club and has appointed officers to help her grow the club.
Briana Emsais, vice president of MESA and a sophomore social work major, feels that Middle Eastern Representation is important to establish and that students deserve to have a space where they feel that they belong.
“It is also really important as MESA was created to raise awareness about current issues in the Middle East as these things typically get swept under the rug in the Western media,” Emsais said.
An example that Emsais referred to is the ongoing war between Azerbaijan and Artsakh, despite a ceasefire that was called on Oct. 10. Other issues include the Yemen Crisis, a war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia which began in 2018 and has killed 16,000 civilians and has left 13 million others to starve, and the war in Afghanistan, which has seen countless attacks from the Islamic State since violence broke out in 2006.
Setrakian acknowledged that Middle Eastern culture is often inaccurately portrayed in the media. Case in point: the 2019 live-action “Aladdin” movie, which included Bollywood dancing even though it is not considered Arabian dancing, said Setrkaian.
With the university being online this fall, Setrakian has struggled to publicize MESA and to attract more members. So far, Setrakian has been able to recruit three.
Among these members is Maxwell Wilson, a senior Psychology and Honors Humanities major who has found the club to be very welcoming.
“MESA has definitely made me feel welcomed and accepted! I’m friends with Angela, and was impressed when she made MESA of her own initiative,” Wilson said. “At first I was curious to see how it would go because I’m not Middle Eastern, but I was immediately welcomed into the conversations and I learned way more about Middle Eastern culture than I had before.”
Despite having very few members, Emsais hopes the club will continue to grow.
“We plan on achieving this by being consistent, being present, continuing to have educational nights as well as nights where we are just having fun, enjoying our rich culture with our dances, music and something that everyone loves, our food,” Emsais said. “Going back to in-person school would also really help in achieving this goa.”
Even though the club is in its first year, Setrakian has plans and a vision for MESA. These plans include more events and ways to get involved in the community, which will hopefully lead to more members joining. So far, MESA’s few events have made an impact on the few individuals that participated in them.
“I attended a [virtual] movie night for “The Promise” where ASA and MESA teamed up to educate us about the Armenian Genocide and how it connects to today’s attacks on Armenians,” Wilson said. “It’s events like this that benefit all parties involved because we gain the opportunity to learn from each other and become a more compassionate student body.”
Setrakian and her fellow club members are also brainstorming ideas on what events to hold when students are permitted to return to campus. These events will include more movie nights, community service events and their “Expressions” event, which Setrakian already has ideas for.
“For our expressions event, I would like for people to learn about our culture, learn our dances, eat our food and listen to our music,” Setrakian states. “I definitely want it to be more of a celebration of our culture and people.”
Setrakian also plans on holding food fundraisers, which will serve as an opportunity to share the unique palate of Middle Eastern food with the student body of APU.
A large portion of the money made by MESA APU will be donated to foundations to send financial aid to the poor in the Middle East. Emsais has a large list of foundations that MESA intends on donating to.
“We have a couple of different organizations for each country in mind. We are open to suggestions from club members on other organizations that we may not have on our list,” Emsais said.
Emsais lists different foundations that can be used for donations to different countries. She recommends Baitulmaal for Yemen, Save the Children and UNHCR for Syria, PCRF (Palestine Children Relief Fund), MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians) for Palestine, Global Giving (to aid Afghanistan for education) and UNICEF (global right for children’s rights) for Afghanistan.
Despite working against the circumstances this semester has brought APU students, the members of MESA remain optimistic for the future of the organization. MESA APU meets online every Friday at 7 p.m. Pacific Time. Be sure to join their meetings if interested. For more information, visit their Instagram @mesa.apu.