Yale students and alumni hailing from different parts of the Arab world may soon find it easier to find each other.
A group of students will meet with members of the administration next week to finalize plans for the launch of the Yale Arab Alumni Association, the first-ever alumni network designed specifically for Yalies that come from Arab countries. Although alumni organizations such as the Yale Club of Israel and the Yale Club of Pakistan are already in place in the Middle East, student organizers said YAAA is "groundbreaking" because it will help bring together Arab alumni who are dispersed throughout many countries and who are often isolated from each other.
The YAAA mission is to form "a key port of entry to Yale for the Arabic-speaking Middle East," according to the group's proposal to the administration. YAAA will function chiefly as an online community and alumni database, with local satellite operations to link students and alumni who are interested in or affiliated with the Arab world, encompassing countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.
Office of International Affairs Director Donald Filer said the establishment of YAAA will benefit the global Arab community because the large degree of dispersion within the group makes it difficult for individual members to congregate.
"There is no one place where a large number of alumni live in the Middle East," he said. "Therefore it makes sense to organize virtually."
Eyad Houssami '07, co-founder of YAAA, said he wants to ensure that alumni who identify themselves as Arab and live in the Middle East are able to find one another through a centralized system.
"Arab intellectuals are constantly in motion," he said. "Generating a regional sense of community is something that we hope to do."
Houssami said he first recognized the need for an alumni organization when he traveled to the Middle East over the past two summers and felt challenged by the lack of a student support system, which he said is typically furnished by a strong, unified alumni presence.
The plans for YAAA come at a time of increasing University interest in the Middle East. University officials recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates to investigate the possibility of building an arts institute in Abu Dhabi, though some other institutions have been wary of building outposts in the Middle East due to concerns about discrimination against local citizens and alleged human rights abuses. Last week, the Yale Council on Middle East Studies revealed plans for an initiative that will bring visiting scholars to the University to teach classes and host workshops and talks on the Middle East.
Houssami said Yale is also boosting efforts to bring more Arab students to campus. Although no sophomores or juniors come from an Arabic-speaking country, he said, about eight freshmen self-identify as Arab.
Co-founder Omar Christidis '04 SOM '07 said he thinks the administration has become deeply invested in building strong ties with the region.
"I think we're in full alliance," he said.
Christidis, who grew up in Lebanon and worked for a consulting firm in the country last year, said he hopes establishing an alumni network will help the University increase student recruiting efforts in the Middle East in addition to forging partnerships with current students.
"We want to structure and formalize these processes so that there is continuity in the community," he said.
Filer said he thinks groups like YAAA can provide much-needed services and institutional support for members of the Yale community.
"As activity in the region increases, whether this is student summer travel or faculty projects, the support of active alumni will be quite valuable, as it is in other parts of the world," Filer said.
Raja Shamas '05, who grew up in East Jerusalem and is currently working in Palestine, said he looks forward to being a part of the Arab alumni network.
"It would have been really nice to have had this association in place when I first graduated," he said.
Christidis, Houssami and co-founder Yusuf Samara '05, a current Woodbridge Fellow, will meet with members of the administration next Tuesday to discuss plans for the official launch. The group will hold its first alumni event this July in Cairo, headlined with a performance by the Whiffenpoofs, who will be touring in the area.