While sitting down at a Starbucks in Montreal in the Spring of 2016, I received messages from a long-time friend about an Arab-student conference that would take place at Columbia University. The title of the conference: Ivy Arab Conference. That’s a name with big implications. Arab students within Ivy league colleges are among some of the most capable and riveting positions among Arab Youth. The Middle East and such Ivy league students would combine to have nearly unlimited resources to construct creative solutions for the region’s chronic illnesses.
Too many years have passed by, nonetheless. Either more problems than solutions have popped up, or the solutions have been antiquated in the face of current problems. Nonetheless, I looked forward to experiencing a frontier of thoughts among some of the most powerful students in the world (or at least powerful on paper).
With the highest of expectations, I registered for the conference as one of the first attendees to arrive. Within an uncrowded auditorium, I prepared my willpower for the one-hundred people I thought would come. The conference started about 1 hour later. Less than one-quarter of the auditorium had occupied seats.
Slightly disappointed, I turned my attention to the panel, which included some of the most successful Arab-American journalists among American media. Stories about resilience, diligent studying, and workplace chemistry entered my listening ears. At the end of the panel, I asked the following question (paraphrased from memory):
“Given your bases in Arab-American civic engagement, what do you think about the principles of the Arab American Institute?”
In short, my question was not answered. Instead, one panelist spoke briefly about James Zogby, the Institute’s founder and president, and moved on to describe how different Arabs think about different things. Sounded like Zogby was a bigger name than his own institute, and it was nice to be reminded about how Arabs have varying viewpoints on life.
The shaky, yet insightful, start led to a better day. Lunch happened on the street’s of NYC, with Thai foods and sweet breads being among my lunch plate. Following the convivial lunch, attendees sat on the grass and benches and spoke about the identity crises of the Arab World. We then ended the day following more fireside chats and open forums inside Columbia’s classrooms, where I had a chance to lead a discussion about mixed-heritage Arabs. This caught the attention of people who I now admire today and aim to visit often. In other words, I made some of the greatest friends I could have ever asked for within the Ivy Arab Conference.
I also forgot to mention that an author came by to talk about his book. The book, titled How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, written by Moustafa Bayoumi, paralleled topics I encountered with the Arab American Institute. I did not proceed to ask a question about Bayoumi and the Institute, because I fell asleep at the latter half of the talk. Damn you, red-eye flights!