One morning in May, students in AU’s emergency housing were met at their east campus front desk with bright blue care packages filled with chocolate candies and an intriguing type of cookie that most had never seen before. In the bag was also a note: "We hope you are keeping well and safe! Here is a small gift from our club to you … and remember, we are always together, never apart, maybe in distance, but never in heart."
The 70 bags were purchased, packed, and delivered by one of AU’s newest clubs, the Saudi Student Association (SSA). It was founded this spring to share Saudi culture – both with each other, as a memory of home, and with the AU community. The sudden moveout prompted by Covid-19 changed their plans, but not their determination to connect with and support the community.
When AU went online in March due to Covid-19, over 3800 students moved out of the residence halls. But students who had no other options were able to apply for emergency housing, and of those accepted, 67 remained on east campus. (After commencement, 33 remained in emergency housing, which shifted to AU-owned apartments.)
Many were international students, which struck a personal chord for SSA members. So they created the “We Are In This Together” initiative with Housing and Residence Life.
When they packed the care packages, they included samples of mamul, a traditional Saudi Arabian date-and-nut cookie. Sharing Saudi culture with others at AU was what rising Kogod senior Abdullah Alshaibani hoped to achieve in founding the club, and he’s been encouraged by the strong support it’s received.
The growing club has members from many different backgrounds – SSA welcomes any AU student to join, not just Saudis – who share an eagerness to make an impact on their community.
“I’m very fortunate to have amazing members who are always supportive of one another. Whenever we come up with new initiatives, all the members always push themselves to do the best to represent the association and the AU community,” says Alshaibani.
This spring, members quickly put their enthusiasm and skills into practice by launching a kick-off event, Arabic Café, and helped coordinate a celebration of 75 years of Saudi-American friendship at the Saudi Arabian Embassy.
Other events were postponed as the AU community responded to Covid-19. But they stayed connected, meet up informally online and plan contests and activities on Instagram.
“Technology today does wonders. I was surprised by everyone’s ability to adapt to the new norms and work with technology the right way,” says Albatool Abuhashem, SSA’s Vice-President.
Throughout the time away from campus, they’ve held on to their goals, says SSA’s Club Consultant, Bandar Alhenaki. “Our goal is to remain in touch with the community and bring about positivity, faith, and union for a better future – because,” as the name of their project puts it, “we are in this together.”
Alshaibani looks forward to fall. “We can’t wait to reconnect with our lovely students and friends at AU. We are looking forward to hosting them again in our upcoming fall events.”
Connecting in the time of Covid-19 has been a difficult challenge at universities around the country and world. But SSA has proven that students may be apart in distance, but not in their hearts.