The Middle East and Arab Network hosted a community dinner Thursday evening, providing students who identify as Arab-American or Arab with an opportunity discuss their identities and explore their own narratives.

MEdAN hosted Prof. Frieda Ekotto, chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, who discussed the work of 20th century philosopher Frantz Fanon. She explored philosophical considerations surrounding his work, particularly those involving race and identity.

“Questions of identity today are so problematic when people don’t have places to be,” Ekotto said.

Fanon, known for his work studying the impacts of decolonization, was a vocal supporter of the Algerian War of Independence, which spanned from 1954 to 1962 and resulted in Algeria’s liberation from France. Many historians say Fanon’s work played an major role in influencing political and social movements across the world.

The idea for hosting a keynote speaker and community dinner originated during a meeting of the MEdAN executive board. Nearly 60 students attended Thursday’s talk.

Law student Emad Ansari said he attended the community dinner to hear Ekotto speak on these topics.

“I think her biggest contribution here is to encourage students to think across historical contexts, and to follow ideas of identity and violence and apply them to the current time and to try and make sense of why violence occurs and how to respond to it with a peaceful solution,” Ansari said.

As members of MEdAN began looking for speakers for their second community dinner, the group focused on the theme of exploring the narratives of individuals or communities of people. Ekotto came to mind when the group realized they also wanted to discuss the topic through the lens of the Middle East and North Africa.

LSA sophomore Mekarem Eljamal, MEdAN logistics chair, said the idea of reclaiming one’s narrative was especially interesting.

“She has done work in Algeria, in Tunisia, she’s given lectures, and she’s done really interesting work on topics that MEdAN wants to focus on, so we just reached out to her and she came up with the idea of Franz Fanon in Algeria and the Algerian Revolution,” Eljamal said.

Though the group holds bi-weekly discussions on identity, MEdAN hopes to host more events and dinners in the future.

LSA junior Haya Alfarhan, MEdAN outreach chair, said the group’s regular discussion sessions, called Chai Circles, present an opportunity to foster an active community on campus.

“What the Chai Circles do is let us have conversations about important issues in informal settings,” Alfarhan said.

For Eljamal, the Chai Circles and community dinners through MEdAN have given her the chance to explore shared identities.

“The spaces the MEdAN has created have enabled me to self-reflect and reclaim my narrative, and these opportunities to reclaim my narrative are so empowering, in a way that is very hard to put into words,” Eljamal said.

For Ekotto, similar conversations emerge from Fanon’s work. Ekotto took questions from students as they further discussed race, oppression, identity and colonialism. With each question, Ekotto noted how many of these considerations come up before in Fanon’s work.

“I realized it’s extremely important that if we’re talking about questions of identity, because this group they’re interested in reclaiming their identity, I think it’s important that they understand the bases — how you get to even understand who you are,” Ekotto said.

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