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NU-Q in Evanston Showcases Student Accomplishments

Northwestern Experience in Qatar connects campuses in Doha, Evanston
  • Student work features film screened at Cannes, series on homeless men and more
  • Event capped weeklong series of programs highlighting creativity and innovation
  • Students learning to balance freedom of expression, cultural respect
  • ‘We hope to open minds with new ideas while keeping valuable traditions alive’

EVANSTON, Ill. --- When Chantelle D’Mello first started investigating the plight of eight elderly, homeless men who were working and sleeping at Doha’s wholesale market, she had trouble getting people to speak publicly.

“When we tried to interview people, we often got a ‘no comment’ or they walked away,” said D’Mello, a rising senior at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q). “It was a reporting challenge.”

But dogged efforts by D’Mello and her NU-Q classmates have prompted action on a local level and started to change some attitudes. “We’re seeing things become more open,” said D’Mello, a part-time reporter for the Doha News. “By the end of the project, the men were grateful for the help our stories generated -- and praying for us to get husbands.”

D’Mello and Noora Hamad Al-Thani last week presented the final installment of their four-part multimedia series during “Creativity and Innovation: A Student Showcase” at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art on the Evanston campus.

The presentation was part of “NU-Q in Evanston,” a series of lectures and presentations over three days (May 11 to 13) when members of the Doha campus came to showcase the Northwestern Experience in Qatar on the Evanston campus.

The story featured Abdullah, a 73-year-old hamaali from Iran. (A hamaali is a porter who helps customers move their goods around a market.) When an Australian activist living in Doha read about Abdullah’s plight in a previous story by the NU-Q students, she worked to raise enough awareness and money to send him back to his family and home country.

“We hope to open minds with new ideas while keeping valuable traditions alive,” said Hamad Al-Thani, who will be a senior next year.

The Student Showcase, which included film, journalism and liberal arts projects, capped a series of events and lectures designed to introduce the Northwestern community to student achievements at NU-Q.

The event, moderated by Susan Pak, assistant professor in residence at NU-Q, drew students and faculty from the Doha and Evanston/Chicago campuses, including Everette Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, and Provost Daniel Linzer.

“It’s the first chance we’ve had to connect with the home campus, to show them what we’re all about and the high quality of work that’s going on in Doha,” Dennis said. “We are advancing global standards in a country that has not had a tradition of freedom of expression. These projects are remarkable achievements.”

Other highlighted projects included:

Dub, Dub-Key and Dabkeh: Yazan Abughaida’s media research project examined the use of reggae music as a form of Palestinian resistance. Abughaida analyzed the song “Dumyeh Plastikieh” (Plastic Doll) by the Palestinian reggae group, the Ministry of Dub-Key, and interviewed members of the band.

“Palestinian reggae music draws our attention to the phenomenon of repurposing a foreign genre to create something separate, but meaningful, to Palestinians,” he wrote in the study, which was published in the annual undergraduate journal of the Middle Eastern Studies Student Association. Though his work is preliminary, he said he hopes to “create the space for other researchers to look into whether music has helped the group achieve their goals of resistance.”

Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment: Presented by Sama Abduljawad and AlReem Al-Mazroei, this ongoing study explored Qatari women’s engagement in society through “majalis al-hareem” or female gatherings.

The ethnographic study, led by NU-Q faculty researchers Jocelyn Mitchell and Tanya Kane, surveyed 1,000 Qatari women and found that 86 percent participate in majalis, and the type -- neighborhood, family, religious or social -- is strongly correlated with different levels of attitude and civil engagement.

The project was funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, which provides grants for research involving both faculty and students.

“One of our goals was to discover potential reforms and changes women want to bring about themselves,” Abduljawad said. “We found majalis are a place for women to interact and better whatever goals they have.”

Passion We Share: Shakeeb Asrar and Omaima Es-samaali created a yearlong public relations campaign designed around what they see as a major problem facing the local organizers of the 2020 World Cup held in Qatar: traditionally low attendance at sporting events by Qatari residents.

Using focus groups and surveys, the students collected responses to the question, “What does Qatar’s World Cup mean to you?” They analyzed key demographics and created a social media presence, a competition and videos.

Both Asrar and Es-samaali said their training at NU-Q has prepared them for a smooth transition into the working world. “In Qatar, most of the work we do is really oriented to your career and developing industry skills that make it possible to start working directly after school,” said Asrar, a rising junior in the journalism school.

“Reporting is hard to do anywhere, but especially in the Arab world,” added Es-samaali. “We’re taking our NU-Q education and putting it to use in the entire community.”

Good as New: Written and directed by NU-Q students Jaser Alagha and Menatalla Kamel, this student-made short film centers on Moayyad, a 26-year-old Syrian mechanic whose dreams take him far from his home, father and reality. Years abroad challenge his decisions and bring him back to his humble life. 

Alagha and Kamel prepared a videotaped introduction to the film; the pair couldn’t make the Northwestern event because their film had been selected for the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival.

“It’s a coming-of-age story of a father and son, and it’s about workers who leave everything behind and chase dreams that aren’t even there,” the directors said in a videotaped introduction to the film about a Syrian baker and his son. Their story was filmed in Qatar, where people come from all over the world to work.

The film, which was born in Susan Pak’s screenwriting class, was funded by Studio 20Q, a student-run organization that works to give students hands-on filmmaking experience and help create a thriving film culture in Qatar.

NU-Q students James Copplestone Farmer and Mayar Hamdan, who both helped produce “Good as New,” discussed the challenges of filming in Qatar, including difficulties with the weather, locations and obtaining permits.

“Everyone goes through a time of confidence shattering,” said Copplestone Farmer, who spent a night in the police station for failing to get a permit.

“You have to be mindful of the laws, get people to tell you their stories and at the same time, be respectful of their culture,” he said. “But when you start to see the quality of the work coming out, you recognize it’s worth doing."