By: Safi El-Gamal ’23 (she/her)

Photo by Sheema Bayunus

The 9/11 assembly in 5th grade: a packed auditorium, anxious whispers, and a restless crowd of angsty middle schoolers. I remember entering the building confused, as I had correlated these random numbers to signify some foreign terrorist attack against my great nation; a nation that had granted my immigrant father and traveling mother great education and success; a nation whose freedoms were under attack by radicals; and a nation that I felt a part of, as a true American, despite often receiving hate for my Patriots gear on Sunday afternoons. 

Little did I know this auditorium would change my perception of not only my nation and its people, but also of myself, in a mere half-hour. As the presentation came to a close, the heart-wrenching pictures and memorial videos of the many people who lost their lives on that day were then ingrained in my memory. And I remember, that just like my friends, my eyes welled up and my throat went scratchy, but when we all walked out, it was like I was walking out a different door than the rest of them. 

Growing up in a school from kindergarten to senior year as both the only Muslim and Arab American, it became a challenge to find a secure support system for validating my culture and faith that were frequently under attack by not just the media, but in the classroom rhetoric. Whether it was a friend putting a towel around their head at camp and being called a terrorist, being called “Indian” because I was brown, or being asked if I “speak hieroglyphics,” my experience in this post-9/11 America, where Islamophobic and anti-Arab sentiment is high, has made it a challenge to embrace my identity. Being one of the only representatives of both my faith and culture has pushed me to feel like I have to know everything about where I come from and who “my people” are, be proficient in Arabic, and undoubtedly receive perfect scores in my “Intro to Islam” class.

And up until I got to college, I hadn’t known what it was like to go to school with people like me, who had similar family traditions, called their grandparents the same names, or even looked forward to the same kanafah dessert on special occasions (although certain ingredients used are intensely disputed over). It’s in the little things, where not many around us may know where our insecurities lie, but those with similar experiences can relate on a much more personal level. But I feel like it doesn’t necessarily have to be like this, and with the help of the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association (MENASA), Middle Eastern and North African students should be able to share their cultural traditions with the student body and feel the same sense of self-validation that other students experience, whether it’s through fun food making, dance events, political discussions, or even a laidback movie night. 

There’s always room for inclusivity, and with more exposure and increased efforts to promote normalization of cultural practices, I believe Davidson can truly thrive and foster a healthy, comfortable, and learned student body. American society is rapidly diversifying; therefore, it is not only desirable but necessary for Davidson students to be equipped with experience engaging with people from other cultures to carry into their futures.

Safi El-Gamal ’23 (she/her) is a Religious Studies and Arab Studies Double Major from Charlotte, NC. Contact her at saelgamal@davidson.edu.