Noor El-Baradie grew up in Saudi Arabia, frequently visiting family in Egypt. And when she came to UNC in 2019, El-Baradie said she immediately looked for an Arab community on campus.
Feeling inspired by her older sister, who found community and friends through the Arab Student Network at McGill University, El-Baradie said she was excited to discover UNC’s Arab Student Organization (ASO) on Heel Life.
After being one of two Arab students at her Delaware high school, El-Baradie said being the “odd one out” forced her to understand and feel secure in heridentity, making her eager to continue connecting with her culture through ASO.
However, through conversations with members of the Muslim Student Association, she learned that the club no longer existed after its previous leadership graduated. Since El-Baradie could not join the ASO, she decided to restart it instead.
“I really wanted to connect with people who are like me and cared about their identity and sort of understood life the way that I looked at it,” she said.
With the help of her friend Rama Yasin, the two first-years worked to build the organization from the ground up with the mission of connecting Arab students on campus and spreading Arab culture to the broader UNC community.
Specifically, El-Baradie and Yasin said they wanted to make ASO a secular organization for all Arab students – recognizing that Arab identity is not homogenous but extremely diverse and independent from religion.
“People think that Arabs and Muslims are synonymous," El-Baradie said. "But that's not true."
El-Baradie is a senior and president of ASO. She said the organization is stronger than ever and she anticipates continued success.
“The energy on the board is just completely different, and it's strong. It's a good energy,” El-Baradie said. “I have no doubts that when I transition out of this position that the ASO will keep going and that it will continue to grow and build.”
The organization continues to host events like educational lecture series and karaoke nights that are open to the public. These events help foster awareness of Arab customs and traditions, El-Baradie said.
ASO also held a recent lecture series, with one lecture focused on the LGBTQ+ community and Arab life, showing that there is not one definition of Arab identity and emphasizing the necessity of inclusion for all Arab people.
“There was some backlash, obviously, with holding that kind of event, but we worked through it, and it was a super successful event,” Sama Hanafieh, treasurer of the ASO, said. “It was probably the biggest turnout we had out of every single lecture series.”
El-Baradie said the group faces challenges as a small ethnic group of students with little campus representation, and it is hard to feel supported or enact change on an institutional level.
She saidASO allows members to explore and connect with their identity in ways that they might not have been able to do without the organization. Some members also said the group has made them feel a greater sense of cultural pride and empowerment.
“They've helped teach me that it's definitely something that I should be proud of. It's something that I want to showcase for myself,” Antony Ibrahim, a group member, said. “When people speak to me and things like that, I want them to be able to understand that I am Egyptian, and that is something that I'm proud of and that shaped who I am.”
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