MENASA, finding community through culture

Martha Farah
Martha Farah, Middle Eastern North African Student Association (MENASA) co-president, outside of the Occidental College Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA. Feb. 7, 2023. Milan Coleman/The Occidental.

Founded just over a year ago, the Middle Eastern and North African Students Association (MENASA) is a newer club on Occidental’s campus. According to Martha Farah* (junior), co-president of the club, they aim to bring together a community of students to support each other and feel like they have a place on campus.

MENASA’s activities range from games, food and spending time with others, according to Ezgi Koc (junior), the other co-president of MENASA. Koc said her favorite part of the club has been meeting other Middle Eastern people and sharing cultures.

“For our first thing that we ever did on campus, we had shawarma, that’s just like meat and things, and it’s really delicious,” Koc said. “So, I think it’s always really fun when we do that. We get to share a meal with one another and just chill. I’ve met some of my closest friends [through MENASA].”

Koc said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many clubs were inactive while students were remote. Despite that, she said the club was able to grow during her first year here at Occidental, even online.

“Because it was during COVID, it wasn’t super official, but then after that I kind of got to know some other Middle Eastern people, then we just started to organize and continue with that,” Koc said. “I always knew that I wanted [to be a part of] a Middle Eastern community in college, because that wasn’t really something that was super strong at my high school. I got really lucky that it was starting my freshman year.”

Ezgi Koc
Ezgi Koc, Middle Eastern North African Student Association (MENASA) co-president, outside of the Occidental College Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA. Feb. 7, 2023. Milan Coleman/The Occidental.

Sarah Boulamaali (first year) says that she joined because she wanted a club that resonated with her Algerian culture. She says her favorite part of the club has been sharing in the MENASA community.

“I feel like coming to a school where it is predominantly white, it’s hard to find people who are of the same group that you are,” Boulamaali said. “So I think that it’s nice to have a space where I can go and relate to similar people.”

Boulamaali says that MENASA is important to Occidental’s campus because it provides people a space to connect with other students and engage with different cultures.

“People have a space to feel comfortable and relate to [others] with the same cultures,” Boulamaali said. “We’ll share food and listen to music, and it’s just a fun way to immerse yourself in a culture that is not extremely prevalent on this campus.”

Farah said she encourages reaching out via MENASA’s email for those interested in getting involved.

“First of all, email us, talk to us because we’re down to listen to any ideas,” Farah said. “Since we’re still kind of new, we love to hear people’s needs from us. Our whole goal is to connect people and make them feel connected, so we’ll do it in any way possible.”

MENASA is planning for its next event Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Intercultural Community Center (ICC). Farah said she is excited to hear from fellow students at the event’s community dinner and meeting.

“I think I’m really excited for the dinner because last year we had a dinner and a lot of people actually showed up, and they liked the food; we all talked and we sat together,” Farah said. “It was a nice little event. We’ll just hear what people are looking for the rest of the semester because it’s really about the students.”

Koc said that it is important to have MENASA on Occidental’s campus to support students in finding a community. She said that moving from home to college can be difficult, particularly for students feeling disconnected from their culture.

“I think it’s really important to have that space and just to be able to feel seen in that way and feel like you have that community who understands some of those experiences,” Koc said. “I feel like it’s really important to have that sort of space here. It’s really nice.”

*Martha Farah is a writer for The Occidental.


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