Minorities on the University of Wisconsin campus have been overlooked, silenced and underrepresented for a long time. As a Palestinian-Muslim woman attending UW, I came to this university hoping for a full college experience that entitled me to feelings of inclusivity and acceptance, just as any other student would hope.
Venturing into the University Bookstore one cold December afternoon with some friends, we scanned the aisles in search of presents to bring home to our families. I came across a rack of “Wisconsin Badgers” shirts translated into other languages. Excitedly, I searched for a shirt in my mother tongue, Arabic, hoping I’d be able to bring home shirts for my parents and younger brother. Unfortunately, I only came across four language translations — Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Hebrew.
From that day forward, I continuously returned to the thought of how cool it would be to create a “Wisconsin Badgers” shirt in Arabic translation. Not only would creating the shirt make me feel accepted as a fellow Badger, but hopefully allow for Arabic-speakers and allies looking to make this campus a more inclusive, safe space for people of color to wear a symbol of acceptance on their chests. Returning from winter break, I wanted to make this thought a reality, and set out for University Bookstore to see who I could contact to put this project in motion.
Approaching the University Bookstore, I was unsure of who to talk to. I asked the woman at the front desk about what publishing company the store uses. Clearly confused by my question, I was looked at suspiciously and asked “and who are you?” I told her I was just an undergraduate student on campus looking to create a t-shirt design that, hopefully, the bookstore would produce and sell. I was then redirected to the sales and marketing office where I could inquire away and set my project in motion.
Prior to entering the office, I fully expected to be met with another series of questions about my motives and to immediately be shut down. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that after explaining my project idea and goals of creating the shirt, I was met with easy and enthusiastic acceptance of my project. The only questions I faced were regarding exactly how the Arabic translation was written and an email to be contacted with further information. I was thanked and went right on my way.
Finally, after almost three months of email exchanges, visits to the office and waiting, the shirts finally arrived April 3 and became available for purchase.
Creating the “Wisconsin Badgers” shirt in Arabic translation has had a much more significant meaning than just a materialistic item to be worn and washed. To me, to have a shirt that represents two aspects of my identity as both a student claiming an education at UW and an Arab-American Wisconsinite, symbolizes a feeling of being accepted in my own space. My hopes of creating this shirt is to give others on this campus feelings of inclusion and to inspire others to not be discouraged when they see a lack of aspects of their identity being represented and to rather set out to make changes in their communities that help them feel included.
Small actions such as these are acts UW should be praised for and continue partaking in. Though there have been plenty of accusations made about administration and the campus itself has felt extremely divided at many points throughout the year, taking part in projects that make this campus a more accepting place for people of all backgrounds could help to counteract this campus climate. There are small ways to bring people together.
Even in times of conflict we are all seeking the same thing: to feel like we belong. The university should seek to expand little initiatives like this.
Saja Abu-Hakmeh ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in psychology.