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April 12: April is National Arab American Heritage Month

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April 1st marked the start of National Arab American Heritage Month. This month serves as a space to recognize the significant contributions of Arab Americans to the United States—often accomplished in spite of efforts to exclude them.

In 2017, the Arab America Foundation started the National Arab American Heritage Month initiative. The tireless organizing and advocacy efforts of volunteers and community leaders have led to proclamations from numerous communities, culminating last year in President Joe Biden proclaiming April as National Arab American Heritage Month.

President Biden wrote:

“The Arab American story is the American story—one of diverse backgrounds and faiths, vibrant tradition, bold innovation, hard work, commitment to community and stalwart patriotism, all coming together to accomplish something greater than any one of us … Sadly, we also recognize that, even as Arab Americans enrich our Nation, many continue to face prejudice, bigotry and violence—a stain on our collective conscience. Hate must have no safe harbor in this country. We must affirm that sentiment again and again.”

It is indicative of the Arab American experience in the United States that this month is only being nationally recognized after years of self-advocacy work from the Arab American community. And that these years are built on a far longer lineage of Arab Americans fighting to be heard and included, to be celebrated and protected. April is a month for folks to come together from many different identities and backgrounds to say, “We hear you; we welcome you. We are eager to celebrate you and we commit to protecting you.”

On Whitman’s campus, students embrace a variety of curricular opportunities to better educate themselves on issues relevant to the Arab and Arab American experience, particularly through Whitman’s South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies major. Faculty, staff and students have all engaged in issues centering Arab and Arab American folks:

In February, students Owen Jakel ’25 and Franko Omair ’25 led a Power & Privilege session titled “Transnational Palestinian Solidarity: How You Can Take Action Across Borders.”
In March, Professor of History Elyse Semerdjian and Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Özge Serin led a community teach-in titled “In the Ruins: The State of the Earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, and Kurdistan and Terror as Usual.”
Student organizations such as Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association continue to advocate for and support many Arab and Arab American folks within the Whitman community.

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