Campus Club Promotes Communication Across Boundaries

How well do you know your fellow students? What do you know about the dozens of cultures represented by our student body? Which nationalities are in contention? Which are allies? How can we learn more about each other?

These are just a few of the questions addressed by Santa Monica College's own Intercultural Dialogue Student Association, which was established a month ago by IDSA President Emre Akkas and six of his friends. The club's purpose was to ask and answer questions about the variety of cultural influence expressed throughout our student body.

The seven original members of the organization are a mixed lot of Armenian and Turkish students, two nationalities that the club claims have been in contention with each other for years. Akkas decided that this animosity had gone on long enough.

"For 600 years we were the same," he says, "The food is the same, the music is the same, we look the same – even the family is the same. Political agendas distinguish rivalries that history doesn't support. Who wins out of this? No one. So let's be friends. Let's ease this tension."

And with that attitude, an alliance between a handful of students from two feuding countries evolved into an organized mission to spread the message of peace to all of the nationalities and ethnicities at SMC. After only a month, the club has expanded to over 40 members, representing ten very different nations.

How are they spreading their message of amicable association? By talking.

"We want to build bridges. I have opinions, you have opinions – we don't have to accept each other's opinions, we just have to talk about them. Communicate. The most important thing is creating dialogue," says Akkas, visibly impassioned.

His enthusiasm is admirable, as his strategy seems somewhat daunting: Getting students from cultural backgrounds that have been engaged in social conflicts, even wars, for centuries to simply sit down and talk to each other in an attempt to erase years of ingrained prejudice hardly even seems safe, let alone constructive. But Akkas disagrees, citing the steps taken to unify his Armenian and Turkish brethren to emphasize cultural richness, not politics.

"The reason we hate each other is we don't know each other. If you compare how similar we all are, and how different we all are, there's more similarities," Akkas explains, adding, "There are no bad differences, just differences."

Last Tuesday, IDSA put this unifying dogma on display for the entire campus, hosting a cultural celebration on the quad that demonstrated just how similar Armenian and Turkish cultures are. Hundreds of students lined up for delicious ethnic delicacies like sarma, kisir, and baklava, served by volunteers from around the community who had put aside their conventional differences in the interest of promoting the possibility of peace.

And as Turkey's Udi Yervant strummed festive Armenian songs over loudspeakers, the hostility raging half a world away was forgotten. The descendents of these two opposing countries put their arms around each other and danced.

As satisfying as this exhibition was for IDSA's founders, Akkas claims it wasn't just a personal accomplishment, but an altruistic one.

"All of these mixed cultures are calling [themselves] by different names, but we all want the same thing," says Akkas, who encourages students of all cultural diversities to participate in IDSA's social experiment.

"SMC is very intercultural and we want to share and experience all cultures, says Akkas. "You know, just saying ‘come' does not make people come. So we will go to them."