Arab-American Student Activism: Marching into the Millennium


At the University of Michigan

In 1998, eight students joined together to create something they thought was important to them. They planned a successful student conference at the University of Michigan entitled Arab-American Student Activism: Bridges to the 21st Century. The conference attracted about 150 students representing 33 universities, as well as such renowned speakers as Hussein Ibish, Media Director at ADC, Sam Husseini, Communications Director at the Institute for Public Accuracy, Fadwa El Guindi, Professor of Anthropology at USC, and Rashid Khalidi, President of The American Committee on Jerusalem. The conference provided both students and speakers with great memories and built new connections throughout the country.

Now in 1999, a few more students are interested in maintaining the bridges. As Arab-American students at an American University, we share a common belief that it is imperative for us to provide our peers with a clear image of what it is to be Arab in an American society. Our aim is to provide other students the tools they need to be active on their campuses and in their communities. We hope they will take with them skills to erase stereotypes, dispel lies, promote our culture and most importantly enjoy their heritage.

Marching into the Millennium will contain three panels and four workshops. Each panel will have three speakers who will provide insight they have obtained and techniques they have used during their years as activists. The workshops will be in a discussion format that will last for 45 minutes. The schedule is composed of three days in which the first will be used for welcoming incoming students with an Arab-

American cultural event, the second filled with panels and a keynote speaker, and finally the workshops on the third day.

The following is a list of the potential panels and workshops for AASA: Marching into the Millenium.


Literature, Art & Activism Panel

Artists play a very important role in the American-Arab society. Through their music, paintings, dance, and writings they have covered many aspects of American-Arab culture and politics in the United States and in their homelands. They have used their work as a voice for the American-Arab community and for issues overseas. Through their work, American-Arab artists have also managed to remind us of our Arab heritage and the struggles that we face as a targeted community of color in the United States. American-Arab art is so crucial to our community because it helps us relate to our culture and the issues that we face on a very personal and profound level. However, because their activism is not always valued as such, it is sometimes overlooked. A Literature, Art, & Activism panel would allow 2 or 3 prominent artists to speak of their activism aloud. We hope that this panel will help participants to learn about American-Arab artists that are trying to use their culture to bring about a political change and especially how they can find and audience for their own work.


Molding Media for the Millennium

E-mail, hand held computers, the internet, cell phones, digital radio stations and televisions all aide in providing communication to our technologically advanced society. The evolution from print to electronic text or radio to e-mail and the respective growth that follows this advancement shows how important media is to our present society. It is now imperative to keep up with technology and especially important to maintain "market share" in this expanding environment.

Our mission as Arab activists should include that of increasing our "market share", meaning an increase in the exposure, awareness, and presentation of our issues. This can only be done with proper advertising and use of the appropriate media sources. An issue, conflict or event is only as strong as the individuals who support it and the only way to increase that number is to perfect the transmission of the pertinent information.

This panel will be lead by Arab-American activists who have made a difference in the exposure, awareness, and presentation of Arab-American issues utilizing the media. It will focus on technique, strategy, and resources for making a voice heard and more importantly listened to. The hope is that this will serve as an impetus for further action by the activists of the new millennium. The hope is that you too will be heard and hopefully your information will spread through your audience as fast as the technology that carries it.

Impacting US Foreign Policy in the Middle East

This panel is meant to concentrate on humanitarian issues directly affecting the people of the Middle East. Although we know that most of these unfortunate situations have arisen due to political circumstances, in this panel we shall chose to disregard political aspects and focus on the living conditions that are imposed to the people of this region. There are a wide range of nations in this region who are experiencing hardships, and we hope that this panel will address these issues. This panel will place emphasis on areas that endure sanctions, are under occupation, and experience internal religious strife. We will introduce these problems to the audience so they can provide insight in respect to the pain these people suffer and the conditions they endure.



Maintaining Arab Identity

Arab immigrants often undergo many stresses when immigrating to the United States. The immediate culture shock makes maintaining Arab culture and tradition a difficult task. Social forces in the United States threaten the values and traditions brought with these immigrants. Conversely, American tradition and culture is overlooked for fear of losing values inherent to Arab culture. Obviously, living with different customs and values in a foreign land can lead to many issues including discrimination, ignorance and uncertainty in ones identity. Maintaining Arab culture in an American society can be challenging. We live in an era surrounded by first and second-generation Arab families who often feel this trap. It is important for us as American-Arab students to show that it is possible to live a life that would not sacrifice any values, but would be acceptable to both societies. Hopefully, attending this workshop will enable American-Arabs to get a grasp on how to maintain an Arab culture while living in the states and more importantly how to encourage others to follow.


Gender-based Dialogue for Arab-Americans

Images of Middle Eastern women and men can be found in every form of popular culture in the US including art, literature, music, television, and movies. Even textbooks, educational films and documentaries and the media reinforce some of the same images. With these images come a multitude of gender-role stereotypes. Arab women are often associated with the words harem, polygamy, and belly dancer, sexy, uneducated, oppressed, and veiled. Our men are thought of as overbearing, hotheaded bullies, terrorists, oil sheiks, and masters of their wife and families. These stereotypes do not fit Arab-American culture, yet many times upon identifying ourselves as Arab Americans they seem to "barge in on us like uninvited guests". Even American feminists, whom we expect to be allies, often perpetrate the stereotype of passive, pathetic Arab women by constantly broadcasting stories of savage Arab men.

The goals of this workshop will be to 1) Examine the different gender stereotypes involving Arab American men and women. 2) Determine the roots of these stereotypes. 3) Determine myth vs. fact of these stereotypes, and talk about the damage these myths can cause. 4) Examine the difficulties facing Arab-American women and men when negotiating between Eastern and Western values. 5) Discuss what it means today to be an Arab or Arab American woman in the United States.

 Inter-group Coalition Building

Building relationships with other student groups within the university community is a very important part of creating a strong and lasting student group. It is important that these ties be built from both social events as well as political meetings. This way, groups of similar interest and action can share ideas in a combined effort. Building bridges with other student groups will aid your agendas and further publicize your organization within the community. We hope that this workshop will allow the participants of the conference to communicate their success and failures in their endeavors to strengthen coalitions with other students groups, while seeking assistance from one another in gaining more recognition on their campuses. We hope that this workshop will help people gain new ideas and tactics on building bridges to other organizations.


Community/Grassroots Outreach:

Arabs in this country have gone too long without a powerful voice. It is imperative that we unite together and take advantage of the fact that there is strength in numbers. Once American-Arabs successfully organize and utilize their efforts, the Arab voice will be listened to and taken seriously. Before we can do anything on a national level, we must first place emphasis in our own communities. This workshop is designed to deal with organizing grass-roots activism and community outreach programs. This will not only enrich the community by bringing it closer together, but will also give the community a chance to join together on addressing and resolving pertinent issues. A strong community that is united has a powerful and influential voice that cannot be ignored.


Schedule of Events:

*All events are located in the U of M Student Union


4:00-8:00 pm Registration

6:00-8:00 pm Open discussion with painter, open art exhibit, finger foods

8:00-10:00 pm Arabesque (Poetry reading from conference participants, music entertainment and appetizers)


  • 8:00am Registration Begins

    9:00-9:15 Intro and welcome to conference

    9:30-11:00 Panel A (Molding Media for the Millennium)

    11:15-12:45 Panel B (Literature, Arts and Activism)

    12:45-2:00 Lunch

    2:00-3:30 Panel C (Impacting US Foreign Policy in the Middle East)

    3:45-4:45 Break into core discussion groups

    5:00-6:00 AASA Townhall Meeting

    7:00-1:00 Keynote speaker and Dinner Banquet followed by party.



  • 10:00-11:00 am Bids for 2001 conference.

    11:00-2:00 pm Four concurrent & Repeating Workshops (20-30 minutes each)

    2:15-3:45 pm Iraq Activism Workshop

    4:00-4:30 pm Last remarks, Winning city for following conference will be announced.

  • We are asking for support from both departments at the University of Michigan and the Arab-American Community. With your support, we will be able to put on a better conference that would allow for a larger audience and notable speakers. The conference will be conducted during the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and will be apart of the MLK schedule of activities.


    Contact Info:

    Visit our web page at


    E-mail questions, comments and suggestions to
    Send U.S. Mail to:
    AASA: Marching into the Millennium
    628 Packard Apt. # 3
    Ann Arbor MI, 48104






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