Students call on Penn to support Middle East Center at University Council meeting after funding canceled

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Students hold signs during the University Council meeting on September 14, 2022, protesting funding for the Middle East Center.

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Student representatives demanded that Penn support the Middle East Center at the first college council meeting of the year.

During Wednesday’s meeting — the first to be chaired by President Liz Magill — nearly a dozen students expressed disappointment at the center’s recent loss of all federal funding. Several students shared their thoughts on the importance of the center, while others held up signs with messages such as “No Funding = Lost Culture Scholarship Speech” and “The MEC is our community”.

In a speech, Burhan Brula, a sophomore at the College and a representative of the Muslim Students Association, called on the administrators of the University to provide the necessary funding to maintain and develop the MEC. On August 4, the United States Department of Education informed the MEC that it had been stripped of its eligibility for NRC funding and its FLAS scholarship grants, amounting to nearly $500,000 in funds. lost – almost all of the centre’s financial support.

“To lose MEC’s ​​programming and outreach efforts would be to lose a crucial element in ensuring visibility and understanding of the often misunderstood people who make up the many nations of the Middle East that the center is committed to studying,” said Brula in his speech. “No other space on campus has the same mission or impact as the Middle East Center. It’s an irreplaceable part of the greater Penn community.”

Brula’s speech contained two actions for the University: allocating resources to maintain existing programming efforts like scholarships and student initiatives previously supported by Title VI funding, and increasing “institutional funding and support” for the DUDE.

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DP reporter Jared Mitovich speaks with Burhan Brula, representative of the Muslim Student Association and sophomore at the College.

In response to a request for comment, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Steven Fluharty, who oversees the MEC, reiterated his previous statement sent to the Daily Pennsylvanian. He noted that the school is “currently reviewing the challenge” of how to sustain the MEC without its federal funding – adding that “this process is ongoing and there are no further details at this time.”

The MSA’s call for the University was echoed during speeches by six students representing a wide range of groups on the council, including the Asia-Pacific Student Coalition and the Abuse Prevention Council and sexual assaults.

Camila Irabien, representative of the Latinx Coalition and senior of the College, was one of those who supported the MEC with the directors during the meeting during her own speech. Irabien, a former DP employee, said MEC funding was “particularly important” given the recent reopening of the ARCH building, which she says demonstrates the value of dedicating space to cultural groups on campus. .

The University Council is a forum of dozens of Penn administrators, faculty, and students who meet monthly. They are authorized to initiate policy proposals and to supervise the activities of the University in all its phases.

Credit: Jesse Zhang President Liz Magill takes notes during the university council meeting on September 14, 2022.

After his address to the University Council, Brula told the DP that the decision to speak at the meeting was the first part of an effort to draw attention to how the loss of funding for the MEC is “seriously hurting” a lot of people. He added that the MSA has made a coordinated effort to have other student organizations on the Council echo its calls in order to deliver their message as effectively as possible.

“We want [the University] to act on its behalf because, in many ways, Penn as a university is responsible for the Department of Education’s decision to cut its funding, and we want them to make up for it,” Brula said.

Middle school junior Ranim Albarkawi was one of the students who came to the council meeting in support of the MEC. Albarkawi, vice president of external affairs at the Penn Arab Student Society, said the center is an essential part of the campus because it provides Arab students with an open space to discuss their issues and history.

“We really just wanted to represent how important the center and the community it provides is to us,” Albarkawi said. “We want to make sure that all the programs we had before can be maintained and expanded.”

Albarkawi, who received a Hebrew scholarship in foreign languages ​​and area studies last summer through Title VI grants, added that the MEC’s ​​reliance on federal funding to carry out its operations serves of statement on how Penn sees the center and its commitment to invest in it.

Safa Elzanfali, PASS junior college and community president, said she attended the university’s council meeting to support the MEC because of the pivotal role the center played during her time at Penn. In addition to the educational opportunities and mentorship programs the MEC supports, many Arab cultural clubs and student organizations rely on the center for institutional support, according to Elzanfali.

“The loss of this funding is just a huge area of ​​uncertainty for many students,” Elzanfali said. “If we don’t have that support from the Middle East Center, a significant part of our programming is just lost.”

Sarah Asfari, a college junior and MSA board member, said she plans to continue advocating for the MEC and appreciates the support she has received thus far from other students and faculty members. She said the University must take an active role in this process, calling it a “crucial step in making Penn’s commitment to diversity and equity a tangible reality.”

PASS issued a statement late Wednesday condemning the loss of funding to the MEC. The statement asks the University about the state of scholarships, programs, scholars and staff at the center. They are also calling on Penn to ensure MEC is eligible for federal funding in the next cycle.

Elzanfali said she hopes the Penn administration will take this situation seriously.

“Whether [Penn] preaches inclusiveness and preaches all these educational standards, then they should heed the voices of this important population,” Elzanfali said.

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