When Middle Eastern studies professor Zackery Heern heard that a local Muslim woman had been harassed at Walmart, he knew there was a need to educate the community.
After a graduate student approached Heern, explaining that a shopper had tried to pull off the woman's hijab, he began planning an event that would spotlight the experiences of Middle Eastern women.
"The way Muslim women dress has become something of an obsession of politicians and news media, and it seems that everyone has an opinion on how Muslim women should or should not dress," Heern said. "Of course, we can talk dress at the panel, but the experience of Middle Eastern women is much deeper than that."
Heern, in partnership with the Gender Resource Center (GRC), organized a panel of Middle Eastern women to help bridge ISU's culture with their own and put to rest to misconceptions of what it means to be a Middle Eastern woman.
"It's really important to expose students to different cultures," said Stephanie Richardson, GRC assistant director of programming. "A lot of times people will have international students in their classes, but unless you get a good chance to talk to them and know their story, you don't really know them. This panel will be a good way to do that and to clear up a lot of misconceptions people may have because of the media."
The GRC often partners with departments on campus to feature a variety of topics involving gender and sexuality, especially during Women's History Month in March.
"Now felt like the best time [for the event]," Richardson said. "It works very well for the kinds of things we do for Women's History Month."
Middle Eastern Women in America will feature a panel comprised of students, community members and faculty, all of whom are women. The primary goal of the panel is to spotlight the women's experiences in America and to open a dialogue between them and the ISU community, with the intention of expanding students' minds and challenging their assumptions.
"One of the things we really try to do with our programming is to open student's eyes to the diversity we have here on campus," Richardson said. "We are all here to get an education, and that includes being aware of the diversity."
The panel will highlight Middle Eastern culture and its differences from rural Idaho. The women will tell their tales on what they encountered when they moved to the U.S., both the good experiences and the struggles.
"My main concern for this event was to try and bridge the experiences of Muslim women in Pocatello with those from the ISU community who might be interested in hearing their stories and perspectives," Heern said. "I would like people to appreciate that the world is complex, nuanced and diverse and that coming together from diverse backgrounds can be a beautiful thing. At the very least, we can learn to tolerate our differences, but our differences can also make us rich."