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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

SA Clubs Shift Direction in Wake of Tragedy


In a room lined with the flags of many nations, students and faculty sat in a circle last Wednesday, sharing ideas and questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist bombings.

The open forum was mediated by Vice President of Student Affairs Dennis Black, who passed a microphone between attendees while anger, disbelief and occasional gratitude projected from the room's tinny speakers.

"Something I've heard is that people are saying they're going to bomb the Middle East into the Stone Age," said a young woman clothed in traditional Muslim dress, who spoke without hesitation. "What many don't realize is that they're not that far from the Stone Age. Just because the governments are receiving aid from other countries doesn't mean they're acting in the interests of their people."

"To me, it's really sad here ... we all have to take World [Civilization class], learn about the ancient cultures, but we as Americans don't understand the current world civilization," said a young man wearing a bandana and a look of dismay.

The shrouded woman replied, citing President Bush's public statement using the word "crusade" as an example of a general misunderstanding she and the Muslim Student Association have been working toward correcting since the events of Sept. 11.

Since that day, members of Student Association clubs such as the MSA and the Organization of Arab Students have been thrust into prominent roles as spokespersons for regions and cultures the UB community still has many questions about. Others have had to surrender their clubs' plans to disarray.

Minara Uddin, MSA treasurer, said the club had initially planned a trip to Darien Lake for next week, but no longer expects the trip to take place. In a normal year, the club has five meetings, a figure which the club has already exceeded. Last year, one of the club's main activities was a public Istar dinner, the breaking of a fast during the holy month of Ramadan, along with henna painting tables set up inside the Student Union.

"Before, there'd be functions and no one would show up," said Uddin. She said the club is now rapidly communicating through e-mail and is "much more active." Now, she said, MSA is accomplishing what almost every cultural SA purports to do: educate the student populace on the many aspects of its heritage.

"The title of ambassador has been thrust upon us so quickly, and at such a young age, but it's exactly the right thing, the best thing we can do," said Uddin.

"No question is ever too little to answer, even if it may seem stupid, I've been used to answering questions for awhile," Uddin said.

She said the most common questions she fields are "What is a 'jihad'? Why do you wear a head cover? Does Islam condone violence?" and, painfully, "Have you lost a loved one?" A friend of Uddin's family, who had taken the day off for his baby's birth, was filling in for a friend at Windows of the World in the north tower and is now among the 6,333 persons reported missing.

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"I've been trying really hard to get on with my life, to not think about it all the time," Uddin said. "It really has brought out the good in a lot of people, though. ... To have your non-Muslim neighbors come up to you and say, 'We respect you, we know that Muslims aren't involved,' it's really pretty reassuring to hear."

Anthony Saad is president of the Organization of Arab Students, another SA club brought to the front of campus discussion since the morning of the attacks.

Saad spent most of that morning like nearly every other student at UB: glued to a television, in rapt silence. "All I could think [that morning] was, 'I hope it's not any Arabs,'" said Saad.

OAS Vice President David Abboud was interviewed by WIVB Channel 4 News for a reaction to the attacks. After describing his shock at the attacks and expressing sympathy for the victims, Abboud was edited to a single sound bite on the evening news: "I just hope they don't target us Arabs."

Saad believes the forums held since the attacks, including those by the MSA, the Jewish Student Union, and the open discussions organized by the Office of Student Affairs, have helped to undo some of the tension following the attacks.

"They've made a big difference. [People] are learning a lot about the differences between Muslims and Arabs, and about their beliefs and religions. A lot of people come up to me, thinking I'm Muslim because I look Arab."

"This is a totally ordinary thing for us. ... A lot of people in OAS like to address this, actually," said Saad. He said the OAS had formerly been interested in founding a "political committee" to organize student relations and information, and predicts the galvanized student body that has recently formed will be successful in doing so.

"I feel the members are a lot more focused, and we'll definitely have more of this kind of thing in the future," Saad said.

"Each year, at each meeting, the attendance decreases a little. ... I feel this year, it will really climb," said Saad.

The OAS had planned a trip to Toronto for shopping, dining and dancing in a city known for its Arab population and culture. The weight of the tragedy, however, will likely prevent any celebratory activities in the near future. "When you're reading for class, or just sitting wherever, all you can think of is what's going to happen, what'll they find out next," said Saad.

The Political Science Club had planned to hold an organized debate on stem cell research for its 70 members last Monday; around 30 showed up for the discussion that took its place. Many of the club's international studies students had discussed the attacks through e-mail throughout the week, but few showed for the meeting said president Vincent Rondinelli.

"We had the meeting debate-style, asked people what they thought the U.S. should do in policy," said Rondinelli. He said the meeting was partly a clash of opposite viewpoints, with some students, including an Army reservist, "saying 'Yeah, they deserve everything they get,' others saying we shouldn't do anything. Some people were just disgusted with the whole thing and left."

"We really had planned the meeting to elect a committee chairman," added Rondinelli. "And also to get a golf tournament going for this year, we'd been working on that for awhile."




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