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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Community bonding over a hot cup of chai

CHAI CHATS / COURTESY
CHAI CHATS / COURTESY

The Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies studies department fosters community discussions for students.

This year, the Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies (ME/SA) department and the Cross Cultural Center (CCC) at UC Davis created a series of bi-weekly events called the “Chai Chats,” where ME/SA community members can come together to engage in discussions about important issues related to identity and personal experiences.

“[They’re] providing space for reflection and critical dialogue,” said CCC Program Coordinator Kriti Garg. “There really aren’t very many spaces on campus where we can come together with folks and talk about stress, talk about family, talk about our different intersecting identities.”

The first event took place on Oct. 7 and the topic centered around how to get involved in the ME/SA community on campus.

“Because it was more of an introductory [event], we kind of just did an icebreaker to get people to meet one another,” said Abire Sabbagh, fourth-year international relations and ME/SA studies double major and CCC ME/SA Community Week Coordinator. “That just kind of got people moving and talking to people they didn’t know, finding people they had similarities with and also people they had differences with…we talked in small groups and then in big groups and [about] what we got out of those conversations.”

In addition to the icebreaker, the first event was an opportunity to introduce the ME/SA leaders, including the career and student staffs.

“We went around and kind of talked about what ME/SA means to people in general, what would they like to see from ME/SA and what they would they change if they could,” Sabbagh said. “Just to get an idea of where we’re at and how we could move forward better in the future and throughout the year.”

For each event, there are community agreements agreed upon to provide a safe space for the attendees.

“[They are] a list of agreements that we make as a group and that we follow throughout the program just to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable,” Sabbagh said. “[Also they] ensure that we are all on the same page and how we want this space to feel for everybody.”

According to Sabbagh, as well as being the first of its kind at UC Davis, Chai Chats is an important program for the ME/SA community in the form of “validating” their presence.

“It really validates our presence on campus by giving us a community space to sit down and talk,” Sabbagh said, “[It] allows for people in our community to feel like they have somewhere they can go to and people they can go to.”

According to ME/SA studies major student affairs officer Shyama Kuver, Chai Chats is not akin to a club which requires attendance at meetings. It is a more comfortable and lenient environment where communities come together to talk about various topics.

“It’s significant to have a space that’s just kind of placed for students who can come and go as they please,” Kuver said. “It’s really just an opportunity to reflect and be introspective but also engage in communication and conversation around topics that may seem taboo sometimes for some, that people may not always get to think about.”

Although the events are designed for the ME/SA community, Sabbagh said that anyone and everyone is welcome to attend the Chai Chats.

“We actually really like it when non-MESA folks come because that’s an act of solidarity for us,” Sabbagh said. “Which is something really important for any underrepresented community.”

Sabbagh said that what’s “special” about the events is that they consist of all types of people and UC Davis communities.

“It brings together students, staff, faculty and people from all around campus,” Sabbagh said. “It’s not just students — it’s really a community.”

Since this quarter is the first time the series of chats are being held, Sabbagh said she is looking forward to the remaining Chai Chats to see what discussions may be fostered.

“I feel like we’re starting to go into the more significant and personal conversations and I don’t really know what to expect for that,” Sabbagh said. “I am excited to see what good conversations we can get out of those and how we can all take what we learn from there and use it to grow individually and as a community on campus.”

For future events, Sabbagh and other members of the staff said they would like to have the community suggests topics for Chai Chats.

“I hope that more folks express interesting in wanting to get involved in the planning of the event and maybe come up with topics and ideas that we can build more forums and community spaces around,” Garg said.

There is also interest in creating “Masala Mondays” in winter quarter, where meetings will focus more on the topics of mental health and wellness. On top of this, the ME/SA department encourages those who are interested to attend the Middle Eastern and South Asian Solidarity retreat on Feb. 6 to 7 as well as participate in the Middle Eastern and South Asian Community Week which is takes place throughout the first week of May.

Written by: Jacqueline Chu – features@theaggie.org

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