In the months following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Moustafa Bayoumi saw a growing dehumanization of Arab-Americans in Brooklyn.
A writer and Arab-American himself, he wanted to do something to combat the stereotypes placed on his community.
"I thought that the best way to counteract this growing power of the stereotype would be for me to write the stories of actual people, their actual stories as real, as fully and as honestly as I could," he said.
Those stories became his book "How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?", this year's Summer Reading book for Carolina's incoming first-year students. On Sept. 6, Bayoumi shared the background of his book and the importance of storytelling with UNC-Chapel Hill students in Memorial Hall.
In its 19th year, the Summer Reading program aims to stimulate critical thinking outside the classroom and give new students intellectual common ground as incoming first-year students.
"How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?" was selected by an eight-person panel of faculty, staff and students. Published in 2008, the book follows young men and women who are navigating college, family and finding purpose as they face stereotypes tied to their ethnicities
The Memorial Hall presentation was the third event held to discuss Bayoumi's book. Earlier in the semester, student leaders and faculty members, including Chancellor Carol L. Folt and student body president Elizabeth Adkins, led discussions about the book with first-year students.
"It's a book that students are reading at a pivotal time in their own lives and, of course, a pivotal time in our country," Folt said. "This book in particular had a profound influence on a lot of our students that read it."
Bayoumi then joined Carolina faculty members on Sept. 5 for a panel discussion on the issues of race and stereotypes that were brought up in "How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?"
Bayoumi told the crowd inside Memorial Hall he was inspired to write the book after seeing first-hand how the lives of Arab-Americans were being impacted by prejudices and discrimination in a post-9/11 New York City.
During the writing process, he met with Arab-Americans in their late-teens and 20s living in Brooklyn to reveal their struggles and also their triumphs as they navigated the effects of prejudices.
"To be young is always difficult. You're always trying to figure out exactly who you are in your life," Bayoumi said. "Imagine trying to do so in the wake of something as monumental and horrible as the 9/11 attacks and in the wake of this growing amount of social hostility."
By documenting their stories, Bayoumi hoped to create more understanding between the Arab-American community and groups that held prejudices against them. Telling their own stories, he said, was the greatest way to break down the stereotypes society had put on them.
"You must tell your own story," he said. "It's not just about learning who you are or finding your own identity, it's about carving a space for your story in the great story that is this country. This country is a story of millions and millions of people. We all need to be able to have that space to tell our own story and to listen to the stories of others."