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AARCCorner Blog

Thaakat and SJP UIC Pali 101

By Yusuf Masood, UIC AARCC Diversity and Community Engagement Program Intern

On February 5th Students for Justice in Palestine and Thaakat a primarily South Asian charity organization had collaborated on an event going over a rather basic history of Palestine and contemporary events such as the lead-up and aftermath of October 7th. We also give basic definitions of words and topics related to colonialism and indigeneity. I also helped present this in front of the crowd. The Muslim chaplain as well as two therapists who were Muslim were there. My portion was going over the first and second intifada where the Palestinian people had revolted against Israel and the government that was complicit in their genocide. Throughout the setup for this presentation, we had no practice with doing it together. Many of us were board members of SJPUIC or the coalition between all the campus SJPS, and SJP Chicago. Instead, we found ourselves guiding the younger freshmen and sophomores on how to present. It was a stark contrast from a year earlier where at least I would be hesitant to give a speech or presentation in front of other people. Thaakat at UIC's board and mission is very South Asian-focused. However, they just like many other student organizations have been a very big ally for SJP on campus. They also are mostly composed of South Asian Muslims though not all of them are. This becomes important because they are also targeted by the administration and feel unsafe on campus. Thaakat along with other Muslim student organizations (besides the MSA) had released a letter in support of Palestine a little bit after the October 7th attacks. The chaplain was also there who was a strong supporter of SJP and Thaakat as well as a good mental health resource. For this event specifically, I did not have to worry about logistics as Thaakat had handled it. This also meant I had to worry very little but still keep an eye out for any extreme MSA members as well as Hillel people. Luckily none had come to this event. Some members of the Thaakat board had been former members of the MSA board (or Shura) and had butt heads with the MSA. We knew they were people who we could trust. After our presentation, we talked about our mental health throughout this whole genocide. Oftentimes especially those who are Palestinian can become so worried about what is happening to their family members or people and neglect their mental health. In a calm environment, we discussed how supported we felt and in what cases we felt the most supported. It was mostly the Palestinian students talking with the mental health professionals. Overall the event was very enjoyable and was one of reflection and calmness. We could get our feelings out without being attacked as we often had felt by the administration at safety forums and other areas.

Lost Paradise - Open Mic Night at the Black Cultural Center Heading link

By Siya Hugar, UIC AARCC Diversity Community Engagement Program

The Black Cultural Center is one of the seven Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social
Change. They serve as a center for students across campus to find resources like mental health
services, gatherings, as well as a space for performances and exhibitions. On Thursday, April
25th I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the Black Cultural Center’s Open Mic Night.
Throughout the semester, the center has been hosting Open Mic Nights on Thursday. These
Open Mic nights provide an opportunity for young emerging musicians and artists to showcase
their talent and gain experience in performing in front of a live audience. The performances
included spoken word, singing, dancing, and the wonderful DJ John West playing music in
between sets.

One specific performance, however, caught my attention. A musical group named ‘Lost
Paradise’ performed a song called “To Be”. This group was comprised of two guitarists, four
backup singers, and a lead vocalist. The performance was so wonderful that I was compelled to
learn more about the background of the inspiration behind the creation of this group. I had the
chance to chat with one of the founders of the group, Oluwatimisire Lawal (also known as Sire),
about the inspiration and importance of Lost Paradise.

Sire is a first year student at UIC, and as he recounts, the creation of Lost Paradise unfolded in
the Courtyard dorm building, where he met the co-founder, Ify Bidokwu. Reaching out to Ify
before moving into the dorms, they learned that they had a shared passion for music. Their
initial meeting blossomed into a creative partnership, igniting the spark that would eventually
illuminate the journey of Lost Paradise. At that time, Sire was working on his first song, and
consulted Ify for inspiration which then kickstarted the collective. Since then, they’ve added a
producer/guitarist to the team.

When I asked about the inspiration behind creating ‘Lost Paradise’, Sire inspiringly responded,
“The idea behind Lost Paradise is based on the essence of how we met. The collective is a
Paradise, a safe haven, that you didn’t even know you were looking for until you found it. A
place where artists are accepted and can express themselves through music.” Sire’s emphasis
on acceptance and self-expression underscores the fundamental principles of their group. Lost
Paradise stands as a bastion of inclusivity and authenticity—a place where artists are free to
embrace their true selves without fear of censure or reproach. By providing a platform for
expression and collaboration, Lost Paradise empowers artists to reclaim their voices and assert
their presence, whether it be at Open Mic Nights at the BCC, or anywhere else.

After watching their performance, I wondered if they had performed anywhere else, and why
they chose to perform at the BCC Open Mic night as well as their feelings about the
performance. I learned that they had performed a couple of times at UIC with Sire being the
lead vocalist and Ify backing them as well. The reason they decided to perform at the BCC was
to “show what Ify can do in a solo artist capacity as he has a lot of songs that haven’t been
heard by the general public as well”. This decision not only reflects their desire to showcase Ify’s
individual talent but also speaks to the inclusive nature of venues like the BCC.

By providing a platform for emerging artists to express themselves, the BCC fosters a culture of
creativity and innovation, empowering individuals like Sire and Ify to share their unique voices
with the world. In doing so, they create a welcoming environment where artists from diverse
backgrounds can come together to celebrate their shared passion for music and self-
expression. As they continue on their journey with Lost Paradise, Sire, Ify, and their fellow
collaborators remain grateful for venues like the BCC that provide them with the opportunity to
cultivate their craft and connect with like-minded individuals who share their passion for music
and creativity.

Sire and Ify would like to thank the BCC, on behalf of Lost Paradise, for hosting this event and
we would like to thank the following people for singing backup vocals: Olamiji, Yoyinsola, and
Sharon. And a thank you to the LP crew: Jaden, Sire, Ify, and TJ.

Instagram socials: @lostparadise.lp, @Ify.lp, @sire.lp, @thomxnz.05

South Asian Arts Fair Heading link

By Siya Hugar, UIC AARCC Diversity Community Engagement Program

As a third year student at UIC, I have had my fair share of experiences in attending
different cultural and academic events at the university. I’ve attended events hosted by Indian
Student Association, Pakistani Students Association, as well as Sri Lankan Student Association.
One thing I have not seen, however, is a cultural event that encompasses all of South Asian
culture and allows students to be part of a bigger community.

As part of recent history, South Asians have been thrown and clumped together under
the same label, although they don’t encompass each of the others. When the society talks about
the South Asian diaspora, it’s often the North Indian culture that is talked about. Bollywood
music and movies, the Hindi language, butter chicken and naan. Although this is part of South
Asian culture, the publicity and exposure of solely this aspect of South Asia, doesn’t allow the
other parts to shine. Rarely is Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, or Nepalese cultures shown. With India
being the most popular South Asian country according to the rest of the world, there are still
parts of India that aren’t as well-known. For example, South Indians are rarely recognized. I am
a South Indian myself, coming from the state of Karnataka. Even when I introduce myself to
other Indian people, only a select few know where Karnataka is.

Due to these issues, my goal for this event was to teach and expose all the other
cultures of South Asia to UIC and faculty. Along with this, it was also important to me for all the
South Asian students at UIC to come together and really feel that sense of belonging. It would
be a chance to mingle with fellow South Asian students and get to know all aspects of this
culturally rich part of the world.

Along with my partner on this project, Tejal Gupta, we were able to work together on
hosting this South Asian Arts Fair, in an attempt to promote cultural diversity and understanding for the South Asian community. We started with visiting different South Asian student organizations at UIC, and really getting to know what they stand for and what kind of events and activities they host. By getting to know these student organizations we were able to learn more about the South Asian scene on campus in hopes to relay the message to the rest of UIC.

Overall, I felt the event was successful. By having different booth like henna application,
painting, and an educational presentation on Urdu poetry, people were really interested in what
we had to offer. From the conversations I had with people who attended the event, they were
really excited and curious about South Asian culture, and also acknowledged that they hadn’t
really seen something like this at UIC.

By hosting this event, I really feel as though we were able to get somewhat of a
message across to as many UIC students as we could. I only hope that moving forward there
are more intimate conversations and initiatives taken in order to bring a sense of belonging to
the South Asian community at UIC

Visiting the Arab American Cultural Center Heading link

By Siya Hugar, UIC AARCC Diversity Community Engagement Program

In the heart of UIC, where diversity thrives and cultural exchange flourishes, the first Arab American Cultural Center emerged as a beacon of inclusivity and support for Arab students navigating the complexities of identity and belonging. Its creation was not merely a whim but a response to a need felt by Arab students who sought a space to feel safe, understood, and celebrated.

The journey of the center began out of necessity. Arab students, grappling with the challenges of assimilation while preserving their cultural heritage, found themselves yearning for a place where they could explore and embrace their identities without fear of judgment or prejudice. Thus, the UIC Arab American Cultural Center was born.

At its core, the center’s mission and goals are multifaceted, reflecting a commitment to nurturing a sense of belonging among Arab students while fostering cultural awareness and understanding within the broader university community. It serves as more than just a physical space; it is a sanctuary where students can engage in dialogue, celebrate their heritage, and find solace in a community that understands their experiences.

One of the cornerstone programs offered by the center is its Arabic conversation hour, providing students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the richness of the language and learn various dialects. This initiative not only enhances linguistic proficiency but also serves as a gateway to deeper cultural appreciation and understanding.

In response to the tragic events unfolding in Palestine, the center has recently shifted its focus to address the mental health needs of Palestinian students grappling with the emotional toll of the conflict. Through support groups and counseling services, the center endeavors to provide a safe space for students to process their grief and trauma while fostering a sense of solidarity and resilience.

Moreover, the center hosts a myriad of events aimed at promoting cultural awareness and dialogue, ranging from film screenings and art exhibitions to panel discussions and guest lectures. These events not only showcase the richness and diversity of Arab culture but also serve as catalysts for meaningful cross-cultural exchange and collaboration.

Getting involved with the center’s activities is both seamless and rewarding for students. Events and programs are regularly advertised and promoted through various channels, notably Instagram, allowing students to stay informed and engaged. Additionally, students are encouraged to participate in the center’s initiatives, whether by attending events, joining support groups, or volunteering their time and talents.

Facilities within the center are designed to facilitate collaboration, dialogue, and community building. From cozy lounges for informal gatherings to state-of-the-art meeting rooms equipped for workshops and seminars, the center provides a conducive environment for learning, sharing, and networking.

Central to the center’s ethos is the promotion of cultural awareness and inclusivity. Through its “Points of Unity,” the center affirms its commitment to creating a safe and inclusive space for all, irrespective of background or belief. By celebrating the diverse tapestry of Arab and Muslim identities, the center fosters a culture of acceptance, respect, and mutual understanding.

Collaboration with other student organizations and academic departments is also a cornerstone of the center’s outreach efforts. While primarily serving as a source of support and advocacy for Arab students, the center extends its solidarity to other marginalized communities and actively collaborates with student organizations to amplify their voices and initiatives.

In conclusion, the Arab American Cultural Center stands as a testament to the transformative power of inclusivity and solidarity. By providing a nurturing environment where Arab students can find refuge, affirmation, and support, the center not only enriches the university experience but also fosters a more equitable and harmonious campus community. As it continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of its constituents, the center remains a shining example of resilience, compassion, and cultural pride.

Aahana's Blanket Making Event Heading link

DCEP Intern, Siya, standing with Aahana board members.

By Siya Hugar, UIC AARCC Diversity Community Engagement Program

On Wednesday, February 21st, I attended the Blanket Making Event that Aahana was hosting.
Aahana is a South Asian student organization at UIC. Aahana strives to abolish ignorance about
social inequality through education. They are a charitable student organization whose proceeds
all go to Manav Sadhna. Manav Sadhna is an organization based in Gujarat, India. They strive
to transform underprivileged communities through a range of initiatives.
The focal point of this particular event was to create blankets destined for the children over at
the UIHealth hospitals. Aahana members and volunteers gathered in a communal spirit, to
make blankets.

The event showcased the essence of unity and the strength of community service. Students
from various backgrounds came together, with their shared passion of wanting to make a
difference in the world. The event served as a reminder that, beyond academics and school,
small gestures such as coming together to make blankets, can make a profound impact.

The lessons drawn from the blanket making event underscored the importance of compassion
and selflessness, demonstrating that even seemingly simple acts, when multiplied, can create a
ripple effect of kindness.

The event also emphasized the power of collaboration and how diverse individuals, when united by a common purpose, can achieve extraordinary outcomes. The benefits of the event extended far beyond the cozy blankets that emerged from the hands of the participants. By directing the proceeds to Manav Sadhna, Aahana ensured that the impact reached global communities in need. Manav Sadhna’s initiatives, ranging from education to healthcare, mirror Aahana’s commitment to holistic transformation. The event, therefore, became a conduit for positive change, symbolizing the interconnectedness of the global community.

Ultimately, the blanket making event hosted by Aahana exemplified the true spirit of giving back
to the community. It showcased that a simple act of crafting blankets could bring comfort and
hope to those in need. As the blankets made their way to UIHealth hospitals, they carried not
just warmth but also a message of solidarity and care.


Disability Cultural Center Heading link

On April 1st, 2024, I visited the Disability Cultural Center in BSB. Unlike other Cultural Centers, it was my first time going to the center and learning about it. I did not think there was an event but it turns out there was one. When I entered there were only a few kids there and the space was relatively empty. This contrasts my experience with the Arab Center and AARCC where it can be somewhat full usually. The people there were nice and it had a unique feeling. They had a digital sign-in system probably as accommodations for those who were disabled. The staff welcomed me in and there were three separate rooms by each other separated by walls with a staff member in each. The inside of the centers gives a warm feeling with banners and pictures all over the walls. What remains surprising to me is that the director of DCC has their own office and it’s open which tells you the size of the center. I had accidentally walked in thinking it was a part of the center but I was told it was not and apologized profusely. It was not very small but still the smallest of the cultural centers I have been visiting. Unlike the rest of BSB the inside of the DCC is not brutalist outside of the doors. It was clear the employees wanted more students to come and in a building with many oases and seating it sounded like it was a struggle to get students to even be aware there was a center in the building. Due to the community it comes from, there are many accommodations made for the people with disabilitiesdisabled in the center. Such as headphones and masking is still required in the center for who I assume is those who are immunocompromised.

I visited the third room and came across an event on intersectional sustainable art led by Mariam. Mariam is a student at the Art Institute and leads this same workshop every two weeks. She complimented my keffiyeh and we both talked about the intersectionality of struggles. I talked to her about her experience being a student at SAIC. She guided me through her art program using pieces of string dipped in paint and pulled through a folded paper. It creates unique symmetrical patterns and can be interpreted how you like. Mariam was encouraging us to use whatever we wanted and any markers as well. One other student joined who did not want to be in the picture and he talked about his unique classes as well as helping out the DCC. The experience was overall very calming and I felt very welcomed. The experience also showed how much of a disadvantage the DCC was. It’s in an area that doesn’t get much traffic and is incredibly small. Ironically, it is by a set of stairs and not by the elevators of BSB. In the photo I had taken there is a picture of me, Mariam, and a DCC director who was also engaging in a conversation with us.

Visiting the Arab Center Heading link

On 2/29/24, I visited the Arab Center for their showcase of art. Each art piece was unique in its way and had a different theme but they were all mostly sad and connected to current world events. From people making a bombed house to poetry about the current citation in Palestine, they were all very interesting. Not every artist was Arab with one being South Asian and another being Ethiopian. The central theme was around resilience and hope, so there was an element of that. There was food and refreshments there for all the students as the cultural centers usually describe. The center would quickly fill up and with music, we would look at the art, interrupted by one of the artists stopping by and explaining their art piece. The mood was remorseful and in deep distress as it had always been since October 7th. Yet there was a celebration of youth with so many young faces fighting for the same cause. A place where we could be open, emotional, and feel safe with the support of the staff there. We had many discussions about mental health and our feelings about the ongoing genocide in Palestine. The picture I took is with Abdal Rahman a good friend of mine and a dedicated member of SJP. I liked his poetry piece and encouraged him to upload it for the event. Behind us is the tree with the Palestinian keys of return, the keys of the people, and the family names of those who fled their houses during the Nakba.

For many students especially those who are Palestinian, this was the last place on campus that felt safe for them. They did not feel safe in other places, their classrooms had become battlegrounds against zionist professors and students. The general campus itself became hostile to them and their identity, with UICPD arresting a Palestinian student for simply drawing on the wall expressing her frustration on the university investments funding Israel and weapons manufacturers. The Arab Center would remain the last area they felt safe, becoming a bastion of the people’s and the student’s desires for activism. The Arab American Center would become a center of activism with those being there from the staff, the student workers, and even the regular students visiting being activists in some type of organization. It then remains questionable why the University is tearing Taft Hall the entire building of that center down and making the center smaller. The Arab Center remains the area where SJP as well as the other progressive organizations have a strong relationship on campus. The Arab Center remains small and swells when there is an event not to mention it has HVAC problems so when it is hot outside it is hot inside and the same when it’s cold. The University does not give enough resources and space to the Arab Center so often there is a struggle to know what to do. It remains concerning that this would be reduced further making it look deliberate on the university’s part that it is reducing one of the bastions and safe spaces for student activism on campus. The progressive values the center promotes also shield the students in it from targeting opponents and rivals of those specific organizations on campus. However, as I visited more centers I would see that the Arab American center is in a relatively better position than other centers.

Tasawwuf and Chaplaincy: Zikr and Dua for Palestine Heading link

By Yusuf Masood, UIC AARCC Diversity and Community Engagement Program Intern

I was one of the main organizers of this event. A zikr is a form of remembering God through chants out loud. A dua is essentially an Islamic ask for help from God. There are different duas, the one we read was called dua nasiri and was made by Moroccans resisting French colonialism. It was so revered that the French attempted to ban it too. This was done alongside and with the advice of the chaplain because he is the central authority of Islamic practices on campus as well as navigating the politics of Islamic and Muslim groups here. The chaplain is a central advisor of Tassawuf and helps determine which practices we should introduce to campus and which we should not. Tassawuf is considered an Islamic science but in recent years has come into contestation by a group financed by Middle Eastern governments called the Salafis, the situation can be complicated but that is the basics of it. The chaplain and Tassawufs goal is to be open to all so we have to methodically choose what practice to do so as not to isolate ourselves, especially from other Muslims despite it being an inevitability among some people. This is further complicated by a hyper-politicization of groups like the MSA or Muslim Student Association. The chaplain as well as Tassawuf have to navigate this complicated climate without creating cliques that can compromise our goals. The event itself was a success in inviting these different and competing groups while maintaining a sense of respect for our event and the nature of the issue of Palestine. From the beginning where I gave a speech on ways to advocate for Palestine and the intersectionality of the occupation to the end, it was a relaxing and calming environment open to a sense of reflection on yourself. After that, we had some food where us organizers reflected on the event. We determined it an overwhelming success, in the lead up to the event I was stressing out due to the low number of RSVP’s but only 24 hours before the event our numbers shot up to over 20. Planning for the event was a bit stressful because we wanted the event sooner rather than later due to Ramzan (Ramadan) being so soon. This is because usually other Muslim organizations on campus hold iftars(where people break their fasts at sunset) and people will go to that instead. Due to the number of Muslim organizations on campus the number of iftars has increased. The number has increased partly due to the recent developments in the MSA but also due to the general increase in Muslim students on campus and more students being born and raised here. However, it will remain a problem especially due to the Center for Students Involvement or the campus institution that registers student organizations being skeptical and concerned about the number of Muslim organizations on campus.

SJP Nakba storytelling event and Day in the life of a Palestinian Heading link

By Yusuf Masood, UIC AARCC Diversity and Community Engagement Program Intern

Apartheid Week is four days of back-to-back events where we organize events in Palestine. Usually celebratory, this year we decided to focus on education due to a celebratory environment feeling inappropriate from the current genocide. The week was very much like a retreat and I was a central organizer and facilitator of the events. Months of planning had led us to have a movie and paint night watching the film Gaza, a political education event diving deep into what led up to and consequences of what happened on October 7th, another political education event where we look into how life is from people who lived in Palestine, finally the last event is our formal event where we interview people who lived through events in Palestine such as the intifada. I will talk about the last two as the themes are common among them all. Planning for this week took months of Zoom meetings and a week before, we had the event, we set up a booth to raise funds because it was Valentine’s Day and we advertise our events. During it, we had been heckled by a zionist. Msa members had also been acting weird. Our advocation for intersectional problems is also seen as problematic to them because we focus specifically on lgbtq freedom too. Which according to their fundamentalist interpretation is not something any Muslim should advocate for. These were two groups we had to look out for in our programs. While the MSA did not show up, Hilell a zionist group did. They came to our day in the life event and we had to keep an eye on him. He sat for a bit and left. In the case SJP is harassed we have developed our own plan that does not include calling UIC security or police. This is due to us having very little faith in them from recent incidents such as the Palestinian who was arrested. Many other organizations both political like SDS and apolitical like PCRF or Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund had joined us and attended. Both events went extremely well with applause from the audience. The first event a day in the life heard relatively younger people from the West Bank, Gaza, and 48 land or occupied Palestine/ Israel describe their experiences and personal life beyond (but still including) the tragedy. The second event described and focused more exactly on political events between Palestine and the occupation. We interviewed people who live in Palestine through Zoom and ended with interviewing Nesreen from the Arab center and Batool Elagha a person from Gaza.  Nesreen focused on the intersectionality of our movements which to our diverse crowd was particularly interesting (as well as to me too). The last interview of Batool Elagha who’s family is from Gaza and she visited many times. Her family is still stuck there and her cousins and uncles who are American citizens were kidnapped by IOF soldiers in a camp in Gaza. After the event ended we were relieved and the outgoing seniors who were gonna leave felt sentimental and emotional. We took a bunch of pictures together many of us in cultural clothing. We had many allies come to our events and the crowd was incredibly diverse.