‘We can be visible to ourselves’: Looking at SWANA representation

Photo+courtesy+of+Reham+Abdunabi

Photo courtesy of Reham Abdunabi

DJ Vicente, Staff Reporter

The Southwest Asian North African Student Organization, or SWANA, was recently registered in January as an officially recognized student organization. The club was created by members of the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center at Colorado State University.

Reham Abdunabi, president of SWANA, commented on the creation of the organization, noting its beginnings as an effort by students and members of APACC who identify with ethnicities represented in SWANA.

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“There isn’t really a center for people who identify as SWANA, and then we were like, ‘Oh, let’s try to start up a student organization and gather everyone and make events and stuff like that so we can see the population we have,’” Abdunabi said.

Abdunabi took on the presidential role in January after doing work to get the organization started up in the fall semester.

Much of Abdunabi’s experience within the community itself was gained when she was growing up in Fort Collins. Her parents had previous involvement at CSU with the SWANA-identifying communities before an official group had ever started.

“Both of my parents went to CSU,” Abdunabi said. “My dad was a community coordinator for the University Village, so we always did events like Ramadan (that) supported the community. I’ve been doing stuff at elementary schools and presenting about the region.”

One of the issues Abdunabi and other members set out to tackle with the formation of SWANA was the lack of statistics for students who identified under ethnicities within the organization. These students would commonly be identified as white on a census, making it hard to get a grasp of how many students actually identified as Southwest Asian or North African within the community.

“Folks from SWANA, the Middle East and North Africa are considered white,” said Hiba Abdeljalil, student success coordinator at APACC. “One of the issues we see is that the SWANA community is hyper-visible, but the issues that we deal with feel invisible because if you want to look at data or numbers, there are none.”

Abdeljalil has been volunteering their time to the SWANA community since the 2021 fall semester, when they assisted in presentations detailing the impact of the classification of the SWANA community as white. They have also been planning methods to raise awareness about the community itself alongside Carl Olsen, APACC’s former assistant director.

Abdeljalil and Abdunabi also discussed the personal goals and attachments they have to the club and the desire to bring more awareness to the community and create a place for a group of students who don’t usually have a recognized organization for their ethnicity on campus.

“Just like any underrepresented population, it’s hard to find that community and connection, especially when we’re speaking from people who didn’t grow up here and are international students,” Abdunabi said. “We can be visible to ourselves and outside people as well because there isn’t really recognition of SWANA people in Fort Collins as well.”

Abdeljalil said it’s important to show the large diversity found within the region itself, rather than a homogenized ideal of a single ethnicity across the whole region.

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“People see it as a monolith,” Abdeljalil said. “They always see it as one specific ethnicity when in reality it’s not. For me as someone who is an Afro-Arab, one of the things that I initially wanted to work on is to highlight the existence of Black SWANA. … It’s a showcase to bring up more discussions of the diversity of the SWANA community.”

With the organization still in its early days, Abdeljalil and Abdunabi plan to make efforts in reaching out to students who identify within the ethnicities of the SWANA community, making an official space for the organization and collaborating with the Office of International Programs as well as groups outside of campus.

Reach DJ Vicente at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @DeejMako.