By Afreen Ahmed, BA International Relations
SOAS is an institution that is recognised for its diverse student body and inclusivity for students from a myriad of backgrounds. Students themselves reflect this diversity by creating societies that reflect the cultures of their homelands, celebrate their distinct backgrounds and unify the student body. This article looks into three popular societies within SOAS and how they conduct themselves in order to mirror the cultural richness of their communities.
“Students themselves reflect this diversity by creating societies that reflect the cultures of their homelands, celebrate their distinct backgrounds and unify the student body.”
Mariem Ofkir, the vice president of the Palestine Society, expresses the importance of having regional societies. Such societies protect minorities and create a safe place to voice issues occurring within certain regions such as Palestine that are not reflected in mainstream discourse. Mariem also highlights the history of oppression that has happened within nations such as Palestine and the importance of celebrating Palestinian people and culture on the SOAS campus. This allows the Palestinian student body the ability to continue to voice their rights and preserve their culture. The role of PALSOC within the student body is a central one as it continues to highlight the changes within the student campus, such as student union refurbishments which Mariem expresses is not the overarching view of the campus. The society focuses on both the cultural and political aspects of the Palestinian regions by hosting cultural nights but also advocating Palestinian voices in times of need. Mariem urges the student body to get involved in the society by supporting Palestinian stories and promoting the importance of education and unity within the student body of SOAS.
Jibran Khan and Hari Goswami, who are the president and vice president of the Desi society within SOAS, focus on the unification of the South Asian community. Jibran uses the terms ‘inclusivity and connectivity’ to highlight the importance of interaction between South Asian students and the importance of overlooking small differences in order to work together. The central message of the Desi society is to create a home within the society where individuals of South Asian heritage are able to express themselves freely through speaking their native languages or connecting over similarities in interests and upbringings. Hari also explains how vital it is for students from overseas to have a safe place within the campus and be able to form a new community within the SOAS. The society holds many cultural events such as cricket events and women’s only mehndi nights in order to reach out to multiple groups of students. The society will soon be announcing its anticipated Desi Ball which will mirror South Asian culture at its height through music, food and traditional dress. Both Jibran and Hari urge anyone to join the society and hope that people come with an open mind and are able to be a part of a community that is important to many in SOAS.
Mohamed Zenbou who is the president of the Middle Eastern and North African Society (MENA) at SOAS suggests the notion of cultural appreciation being a vital element of the student body as it opens doors for individuals to have a cultural community which they may not have been a part of in the past. The MENA society is one of the more popular societies within SOAS as it reflects a huge proportion of the student body. Despite the slight differences in upbringings and backgrounds, Mohamed believes that it is the similarities between the members of the MENA society that bring students together and form a society that primarily focuses on celebrating culture. This year, Mohamed intends to introduce a new side of the society by bringing a more educational focus that will help preserve the culture of the MENA regions in order to empower students. This will be done by bringing in guest speakers and hosting talks that cover a multitude of topics that resonate with many students. The society also places importance on creating a space for Muslim women within the society by hosting women’s only activities in order for Muslim women to have their own space to connect with each other. Mohammed expresses that anyone is welcome to the MENA society and hopes to continue to steer the MENA society in a positive manner in the coming years.