Campus News

In an effort to boost inclusivity, Multicultural Student Center recognizes multiple heritage months

Students make lanterns in preparation for the Night Festival Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Multicultural Student Center.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

The month of April will be one of celebration for the Multicultural Student Center.

For the first time, the MSC will celebrate Middle Eastern North African Heritage Month and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month to highlight those communities and the impact they have on UW-Madison.

While the month of April is nationally recognized as Arab American Heritage Month, the center — with help from UW-Madison students — chose to celebrate MENA Heritage Month in an effort to be more inclusive, according to UW-Madison senior Mouna Algahaithi.

Algahaithi said that while Arab American Heritage Month is focused on “Arab-speaking individuals,” MSC community members wanted to ensure the month recognized identities ranging from Morocco to Iran to Turkey.

Additionally, the group wanted to use April to educate students about the different cultural practices of the countries within the MENA region.

“People look at the Middle East and North Africa and they lump it into one region of the world,” Algahaithi said. “This clumping of religion and of heritage and of culture and a lot of that stems from innocent ignorance. People don’t know about the vast history and politics and sociocultural things that are going on.”

To educate UW-Madison students and community members about the various cultures and practices throughout the region, the MENA committee will promote events from other organizations like the Middle Eastern Studies Program’s lecture series throughout the month. They will also hold events — like the April 22 Bellydance N’ Brunch — aimed to celebrate different cultures.

Razan Aldagher, a graduate student from Kuwait, said the month’s events are important because ethnic studies courses at UW-Madison — specifically those about African and Middle Eastern culture — are often “orientalized” and not taught by people from the regions themselves. This month, she said, will give people a better perspective on these cultures.

“I think it is really cool that this month is being presented by people who are from that region and to people who are not really necessarily aware of the regions and the differences that lie within,” Aldagher said.

Just as MENA chose a name to encompass more of the UW-Madison community, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is now Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month at the MSC.

According to Pakistani American and UW-Madison junior Ali Khan, the MSC added the terms “Desi” and “American” to recognize that South-Asian Americans are “are part of the fabric of asian identity” on campus.

Shannon Thao, a UW-Madison senior and Hmong-American who helped organize the month’s events, said this year will be more inclusive and allow students to find a community to celebrate their culture with — something she said she struggled to do during her four years at the university.

“I really wanted to make it a point that we do include and we do voice everyone's experiences and identities because I think that is very important,” Thao said.

MSC Director Gabe Javier said APIDA and MENA Heritage Months are “part of an important set of celebrations” alongside Latinx Heritage Month, LGBTQ History Month, Native November and Black History Month.

“These celebrations and heritage months help students of color foster a sense of community and belongingness, which is especially important at large institutions like Madison,” he said.

APIDA and MENA will begin the month-long celebration with a Night Festival Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Multicultural Student Center. The groups’ events can be found on their respective Facebook pages.

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