UWB Arab Student Association’s Graduating Student Co-Founders Reflect on Their Momentous Journey

Written by: Aditi Nambiar; Editor-in-Chief

The Arab Student Association (ASA) at UW Bothell is a space for Arab students to come together at UW Bothell and within the broader community to celebrate their culture, identity, and heritage. “The purpose of this club- like any other ethnic or racial [or] religious club is to meet people from similar backgrounds… to get to know one another through a fun and positive atmosphere on campus,” says co-founder and President, Yara Marouf. 

Marouf, who recently graduated from UW Bothell in winter quarter, founded the club with her friends Sarah Mustafa, Vice President, and Haidi Ghobrial, Secretary, in October of 2020. She wanted to build community and make friends after feeling out of place in their first year of university. They felt like there wasn’t a group on campus that represented or advocated for Arab students and wanted to fill that gap and bring everyone in the community together. 

She recalls, “When I chose to start ASA, it came from a place of remembering how I felt freshman year and not wanting anybody else to go through that. And more importantly recognizing that okay, there is a gap, there isn’t [a] representation of Arabs on campus. There’s a lot of us but there’s nothing really organizing everybody in one unified kind of group.” Marouf wanted her peers to feel a sense of belonging in a space that is meant to be a home away from home. 

ASA hosted two of their biggest events since the pandemic this quarter, Heritage Night and Sahra Night. Heritage Night is an annual cultural showcase event hosted by the UWB Black Student Union (BSU) in collaboration with other cultural clubs on campus, which aims to celebrate the students’ identities and the cultural diversity of UWB through traditional food, dance, fashion, and more. This year, the Arab Student Association joined BSU for the first time to host the celebration in May along with the Filipino American Student Association (FASA), the Indian Student Association (ISA), and the UWB Student Association For Immigrants & Refugees (SAFIR). 

ASA Officer Team at Heritage Night 2022

Putting together the large event in collaboration with the other UWB cultural clubs was an extensive process, but rewarding for the club as it reflected their dedication to bringing more Arab representation to the UWB community. Vice President, Mustafa, says the collaboration opened up a special connection with the other co-hosting cultural clubs, stating,  “I feel like it was also a really good opportunity to connect with other cultural clubs on campus because it’s easy to just DM them on Instagram to post a flier or something, but it’s different than working with them. But in the end, everyone enjoyed working together and even commented about future collaborations on campus.”

The occasion was particularly special for the co-founders as it marked the very first time they met as freshmen in 2019. Marouf recalls, “I made my first real friend at UWB, which happened to be Sarah, at UWB in 2019. That was when Heritage Night was a really big deal, so it was really nice to kind of see it come full circle from a personal perspective where it’s like, this was an event that I got to meet so many incredible people from and make some lifelong friends out of.”

The club was awarded Best Collaboration at the 2022 Club Council Recognition Banquet for their efforts in putting together the event with BSU, ISA, FASA, and SAFIR, along with the Rising Star Award in recognition of their hard work and contributions as a growing club on campus.

ASA Officers with their awards at the 2022 Club Council Recognition Banquet

Along with Heritage Night, ASA has been simultaneously preparing for their first large-scale event, Sahra Night, which was held on Friday, June 3. Secretary Ghobrial states, “It’s our first time planning an event this big with an expected amount of so many participants. We’ve seen many cultural clubs have their night, you know, FASA has one. The Indian Student Association has Desi Night, which always looks like a blast. So one day we were like, why not create such a big event and try to bring so many people together one night for our club”? Ghobrial shared that putting together the event was a new experience as it was their first time navigating the organization process for an event so large. 

ASA’s goal was to make Sahra Night a time for students to come together in a more formal setting and enjoy each other’s company along with Middle Eastern food and dance. Ghobrial looked forward to the opportunity, stating, “We don’t host a lot of parties or fun events where people get to dress up and show up… it is one of our goals that we create this end-of-year party. It’s also nice for us because we’re graduating and so we end it on a high note.”

ASA at Sahra Night 2022

Having founded the club in the midst of the pandemic, ASA was faced with unique challenges that came with the unprecedented times. “I know our first-ever meeting was over Zoom. We had a lot of participants and I think it definitely got everybody’s spirits high because everybody was really pumped… And then slowly though, we started seeing [that] the more we would put on Zoom meetings, the less participation [we had],” says Marouf. 

She adds that they were aware that starting a club from scratch would be a process in itself that comes with a lot of trial and error. During this time, ASA turned to social media to start developing a strong foundation for the club. They stayed active and increased their engagement, gaining more students’ involvement and interest through platforms like Instagram and Discord. 

When ASA was able to host events and gatherings in person, the officers were delighted to see this energy transfer on campus. They felt accomplished for having made it through the initial struggles of running the club virtually. ASA Vice President, Sarah Mustafa recalls, “I feel like Club Fair was also exciting because it was our first kind of event on campus. When we had our booth out there, I didn’t expect to have so many people come up to our club and be interested in our culture and sign up as members. So that was definitely the first moment where I was like, ‘Wow this does have the potential and the year and a half online was worth it in the end.’”

ASA at Club Fair 2021

Marouf reflects on the experience of getting the club started stating, “Going into this, initially, we thought in week one our club was going to be amazing, everybody would be wanting to join, and then we really got hit with reality which is, that’s not really the case…I spoke with my older sister who’s such a big mentor to me [and she told me], ‘You’re planting the seed so that the future UWB students can come and reap the benefits of this.’ And that allowed me to continue because I realize [that] maybe we’re not going to be able to host every single event we can think of. “

ASA’s meetings are open for anybody to join. To be a member of the club, students are encouraged to attend ASA’s events, where they may be asked to fill out an intake form through which the club can gather basic information about each individual.  Since it can be harder to get to every new student during events, the club now asks students to follow ASA’s Instagram page to stay in the loop when they check in to any of the events, general meetings, or gatherings. They also ask students for their contact information so they can be officially added to the ASA club member page. The club has had over thirty members this year. 

Along with Marouf, Mustafa, and Ghobrial, the 2022-2023 officer team also includes Public Relations Officer, Khalid Mustafa, and Social Media Manager, Nabil Shehadeh. Shehadeh will be serving as the ASUWB Director of Marketing in the upcoming academic year.

For the co-founders, starting the Arab Student Association from the ground up is one of their most memorable experiences and something they have taken a lot of pride in during their undergrad at UW Bothell. Marouf shares that she started realizing the impact they have made with the club when ASA opened the 2022-2023 officer elections in winter quarter. 

The officers were initially unsure of whether anyone would apply to carry forward ASA’s mission and were shocked to see so many applicants show their interest in leading the club. Marouf states, “The fact that we have a full team of five that are so dedicated and passionate about the club and are excited to take over starting is I think the biggest turning point. They came and I think they re-ignited that energy within us… They’ve seen what we’ve been doing and they care enough to where they want to be handed off the torch.” 

Vice President, Sarah Mustafa adds, “I’m happy it turned out that we were able to start it and continue it and watch it grow over the years before we leave campus.” For Secretary, Haidi Ghobrial, fulfillment was achieved just by seeing how her professors have felt joy in seeing the club bring more cultural representation to campus. She shares, “I know one of my professors, she is Arab as well, and I told her that, ‘Hey, I have this club!’ She was super excited that there is Arab representation on campus and she was super proud and happy to see that representation on stage and [participate] in that event on-campus cause that was not available before. To me, seeing not only students finding our community but also professors on campus finding the community [with] something they can relate to as well- it made me feel like ‘Wow, we’ve done something nice!’ ”

As President Yara Marouf reflects on her time at UWB and starting ASA as a new club with Mustafa and Ghobrial, she states, “My biggest lesson is you have the power to change your circumstances. I learned that I have the power to change things and if I don’t really like the way things are going, or if I notice that something needs to change, I have it in me to do that and start that. Thankfully there [are] amazing people like my friends here, who recognize it and are just as willing to support.” 

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