This article is a part of a larger feature series titled Taking the Temperature of Diversity and Inclusivity at BC in 2018.
ollowing the Silence is Still Violence and “die-in” protests of October 2017 and 2018, respectively, the topic of diversity and inclusion has come to the forefront on campus. That conversation has extended its tendrils to the Arab Student Association (ASA), where Sarya Baladi, president of ASA and MCAS ’19, who is working to raise the group’s profile to provide add an important, underrepresented voice to the larger issue.
“There are very few Middle Easterners and Arabs in particular [at BC], so I got involved freshman year because it was my only way to meet people of the Arab world, or else it is kind of impossible to find them on campus,” Baladi said. “I decided to become president because this campus needs a strong Arab group, I think I was one of the only people in my grade who was able to take on this role and I think it is a very important role.”
She has been a member of the club since freshman year, working her way from freshman representative to treasurer and eventually to president. Baladi said that she is inspired by the increasing amount of Arab students that she sees on campus each year.
“BC is a very non-diverse school, not only racial, but international versus national,” Baladi said. “I wish there was more of an international presence at Boston College, but I feel it has gotten more international and more diverse in the four years I have been here.”
The current freshman class is 33 percent AHANA+ which is 7 percent more AHANA+ than the current senior class, which only has 26 percent.
“There is obviously a lot to improve here in terms of diversity and international outlook,” Baladi said, “but I do think that they [BC] are making a conscious effort to make it better.”
One of the issues ASA has struggled with is getting its identity properly classified on campus, mainly due to its exclusion from the AHANA acronym.
“Technically, the AHANA acronym does not include anyone from the Middle East and North Africa,” Baladi said. “It is not just a BC issue, in the United States’ census, people from the Middle East and North Africa are counted as white, which is quite controversial.”
MENA, which stands for Middle East North African, is a common acronym used to refer to people from that geographic region of the world, according to Baladi. BC added the + to AHANA+ to include other groups who do not identify with the original AHANA acronym—African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American—but Baladi still feels there is some disconnect between the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC) and MENA students.
“Many Arab students feel that they have similar struggles to AHANA students, yet they are not recognized as such,” Baladi said. “Personally, I don’t really like the acronym, I think they should speak about students as people of color, instead of categorizing them to a certain degree.”
Baladi pointed out the diversity within the MENA population, as some students are “white passing,” which means they appear caucasian, and benefit from the privileges that come with being white, while other students are not, or wear a hijab or have signifiers from their culture that prevent them from benefiting from the same privilege.
This gray area that has emerged around the classification of MENA students has caused them to not be included in some support groups on campus. Although the ASA collaborates with the BAIC, Arab students do not receive other communications from the BAIC because they are counted as white by the University. The ASA does receive a lot of support from the Islamic Civilization and Societies program and the Arabic Studies program.
“An Arab student who is not apart of BAIC will not receive any support or communication from [BAIC],” Baladi said. “I think that a lot of Middle Eastern and North African students do not feel very comfortable going into that office because they don’t feel like it is a space for them.”
As a culture club, the ASA is often involved with working through issues regarding race and diversity on campus—the group was present at the Silence is Still Violence protests.
“I am really happy about the big turnout that was there at the march, but I do think afterwards people forgot about it and went on with their lives,” Baladi said.
She said she believes the protest created a shift on BC’s campus toward diversity and created a more welcoming environment for students of color on campus. Her concerns with matters of inclusivity begins with white students, though. In her experience, she said that when BC puts together programs about conversations surrounding diversity and inclusivity at the University, the audience for such events tends to be far heavier on students of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and women. Although getting such attendance is a valuable showcase of solidarity among marginalized members of the BC community, not getting straight, white, male students who she said need to be at those events more than anyone else is problematic.
In addition, her concerns extend to University administrators. She said that it’s paid attention “to a certain extent” to the needs of students of color on campus, but hasn’t gone as far as she’d like in relation to improving their experiences.
She sees the DiversityEdu model, which was a mandatory prerequisite course, required by the University on the topic of diversity and inclusion, as a good example.
“I think the DiversityEdu is a great step that the administration took, but they expected it to fix all of their issues when it is the bare minimum that they should have done,” Baladi said.
Baladi suggested a mandatory residence hall floor meeting around the topic of diversity, in addition to the module, in order to more thoroughly cover the topic and begin the conversations students find so difficult to participate in. In addition, she commended the University’s decision to administer the Student Experience Survey, fulfilling one of the demands that emerged in the wake of the Silence is Still Violence protests.