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More than 125 Arab students from Boston, New York and Washington gathered at Harvard Saturday to learn about their heritage and discuss political and social issues at the Intercollegiate Arab Student Conference (IASC).
"Our purpose is to foster awareness among Arab students about the challenges that are facing them in the Western and Arab world," said IASC organizer Yasmin T. Alireza '01.
Students attended six panel sessions in Harvard Hall and ended the day with a candlelight vigil to raise awareness about Palestinians killed in ongoing conflicts with Israel.
The vigil was described by IASC organizer Rania Succar '01 as the "first step in taking action" for Arab concerns.
The panels covered a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from the role of Arab women to Arab activism in American politics.
The sessions revolved around the themes of "information and mobilization," reflecting by the conference's slogan: "The Arab Future: Being Informed and Taking Action," Succar said.
Twenty professional consultants, activists, authors and scholars spoke during the panel discussions about current issues like Middle East industries and different Arab religions, as well as the importance in getting involved in such issues.
At the end of the lectures, members of the audience asked questions and sparred with the speakers on topics like American sanctions against Iraq, the upcoming presidential elections and the ways that Arab governments could use the Internet to become more accessible to their constituents.
"We wanted to create a forum in which [students] could exchange ideas," Alireza said.
Many students said they were impressed and inspired by the panel discussions.
Matt P. Courey, a senior from the University of Pennsylvania, said the conference brought together a diverse group of people with a variety of interests.
"I think it's wonderful that people have come together to look at the issues from a progressive point of view," he said.
The speakers also said they were also impressed with the conference. Maya M. Berry, director of government relations at the Arab American Institute, said that conferences like the IASC meet a community need by reaching students.
"It's important that young people get involved in public life," she said, referring to students as the "active constituency" in politics.
But Ahmed E. El-Gaili '98, a Harvard Law School student on the organizing committee, added that the conference was also intended to "expose [Arab students] to their heritage."
The IASC was a joint effort between students at Harvard and MIT. Alireza and Succar were the principal organizers, which began last May.
The conference was the fourth of its kind to take place since 1996. Other conferences followed in 1997 and 1998.
There was no conference in 1999 because many former organizers had graduated or were unavailable.
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