Eight years ago, Adday Naoum’s “dead-silent” eighth grade classroom watched as two planes smashed into the World Trade Center towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 and profoundly altered the course of American history and culture.
What Naoum didn’t know is his future had changed too.
It wasn’t until the Bush administration announced that the 9-11 attacks were the suspected work of Islamic extremists —/all of whom were Arab —/that Naoum, a full-blooded Syrian, said he began to feel searing looks eating into back of his head as he walked the halls of his Littleton junior high school.
“That’s when things got bad. Joking escalated to full blown racial discrimination,” said Naoum, who was appointed to the position of director for diversity for the Associated Students of CSU in April.
Racial stereotyping and derogatory comments defined Naoum’s years following the attacks. Classmates he once considered friends slung comments like “towel-head” and “why don’t you go fly a plane into a building” at him —/comments that “shocked and appalled” him.
That shock soon turned to anger, and Naoum looked to football as a release for his frustration. But when relentless taunting from one particular classmate ended in a high school lunchroom brawl, Naoum found himself facing suspension.
School administrators planned to suspend Naoum right away and let the other student walk away with no punishment until Naoum threatened to take his case to the school board for racial discrimination.
After both students were sent home with a one-day suspension, Naoum’s father offered a piece of advice that he remembers to this day.
“He said, ‘I understand why you reacted the way you did, but be the bigger man.’
“After a while I realized that by getting angry I was just fueling their fire, and I could use my mind instead of my fist.”
Naoum, the first American-born member of his family, was raised on traditional Middle Eastern customs, and even though he experienced American culture at school and with his friends, at home he spoke Arabic and practiced Arab customs.
Even though both his parents were fluent English speakers, they believed he should embrace his ethnic background and even refused to speak English in their home.
“It was like an entirely different world,” Naoum said. “I guess you could say I was getting the best of both worlds.”
When Naoum realized he could use his background to educate his peers about Arab culture, he decided to do “everything in his power to eliminate” the hatred he’d experienced and keep it from happening to others —/a goal he is living out at CSU.
Striving to boost diversity
In addition to being a member of CSU’s ethnic community, Naoum also serves as the director of diversity and outreach for the CSU’s student government.
“I’m striving to create an environment where people are open-minded, respectful and want to breach out to expand their horizons,” he said.
Naoum attributes his leadership skills to becoming involved in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity during his first semester on campus and serving as vice president last year. He said the leadership roles and community service projects he took part in allowed him to feel comfortable “jumping into a position as important as this one.”
Throughout his time at CSU, Naoum said he’s learned more about the world as a whole and has become even more passionate about diversity efforts. He said that, while he spent the first three years of college focused on philanthropy, the director of diversity and outreach position was always in the back of his mind.
“This is something I had to do,” Naoum said.
With a budget of $8,000, Naoum said he and his team are working with campus organizations such as the Council of International Student Affairs and the Office of International Programs, and they plan to sponsor and co-sponsor a number of programs including:
World Unity Fair
Friday Afternoon Club
The ASCSU Diversity Conference, and
High School Leadership Conference.
The first of these endeavors, Friday Afternoon Club, will take place today at the International House. The club is a weekly gathering for international students, and this week’s meeting is focused on “Meeting your student government.”
“We’re giving them the option to branch out and join organizations like SLiCE, ASCSU and Greek Life,” Naoum said.
As the main resource of advocacy, Naoum said it is the ASCSU’s job to encourage students with diverse backgrounds to “come together and work together” to ensure that the time they spend at CSU is the best experience possible.
“Simply having diverse students is a step, but it doesn’t make your campus diverse. Once those students have branched out and are infused in all aspects of CSU, that’s when it’s diverse,” Naoum said.
ASCSU Beat Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at email@example.com.