Think back to 9/11. Fears were heightened, cultures were generalized, stereotypes were formed. A false perception was generated that the Middle East was a place inhabited entirely by "terrorists," and gradually evolved into a taboo subject in America.
One group of students knew that this mindset needed to change.
They knew that the Middle East was an important subject to discuss, and that students were interested in not only learning about the language and religion of the region, but of the politics and sociology of it as well.
Thus, the Middle East Studies Student Initiative (MESSI) was created at UCI – a dedicated group of members determined to bring about education and awareness of this region through a formal structure of study.
The Middle East Studies Student Initiative was created around 2004 by a few people who felt that it was important that UCI offered a Middle East studies major.
These students were not able to get the major approved at that time, but they were able to bring about the Middle East Studies Certificate Program.
This program requires that students take at least six specified courses regarding the Middle East that are offered in various schools and departments including humanities, social science and sociology.
After completing these certain requirements, students are eligible to obtain a certificate in Middle Eastern studies. However, this certificate was not enough for the members of MESSI – they decided that they needed to make a stronger case that a Middle East studies major should be offered as well.
Although there is still not an official Middle East studies major at UCI, the members of this initiative have been working extremely hard to bring one to Irvine.
However, instituting a new major is not an easy process – there are several bureaucratic steps that need to be followed exactly just to bring about this change.
Also, money is an issue when trying to convince the faculty, administration and other officials to bring about this major.
The members of MESSI have been doing everything they can to prove that students are interested in Middle Eastern studies and that there is enough to sustain the program.
In order to prove this, members of MESSI have been gaining school and community support through different events.
Over the past year, the group has hosted several cultural events that showcase local Middle Eastern food.
They have also put together a fashion show and arranged a Middle Eastern comedian performance. These acts spread a positive image of the Middle East and also prove to the administration that this subject is of interest to students.
Based on the attendance of these events and just of general discussion around campus, co-presidents Zachary Tune and Noura Barakat have observed that there is a lot of interest and passion regarding the Middle East.
"How can you have such an interested group of people, and not have the formal structure to educate them?" Tune says.
The fact that this question has not been answered encourages the initiative members to work even harder to ensure that a Middle East studies major is brought to UCI.
In their continued efforts to spread cultural awareness and work toward an established major, MESSI is also working on a program where students are able to submit policy papers.
In the future, students will be invited to write a policy paper on an issue that discusses how social media affects democracy in the Middle East.
Students will provide their stance on the issue and then talk about ways to improve it. After writing the paper, they will come to an event where they can present their paper in front of a panel of judges.
A scholarship will then be awarded to the paper that presents the most intriguing discussion of a Middle Eastern policy. This event will hopefully show that students here at UCI are engaged and interested in the Middle East, while also fostering discussion on important issues and educating others on cultural aspects of the Middle East.
MESSI hopes that with all of their dedication and efforts, the administration and other officials in charge of creating majors will see that this subject is of great importance to students.
MESSI wants others to see that the Middle East is critical to world peace and to America's national interest.
Since the United States plays such a critical role, it is important to learn more about developments if any progress wants to be made. Until then, the members of the initiative will continue to dedicate their time and efforts to a subject that could help students change the world.