Don't blow off a challenge
Iranian Students Foundation parties are at the expense of the culture it was founded to promote
December 3, 2006
Nezam Rabonik's article "Have a problem with our agenda?" was a disappointing attack at criticism offered by Rana Rabei in "Support WHAT exactly!?". The tone of the letter was very defensive and to a lot of people, that says it all.
A few years earlier, I had to type the Iranian Students Foundation's constitution for the University of Maryland, as an officer. I remember typing a very clear sentence concerning the goal of ISF: to promote the Iranian culture within and without the Iranian community. To me, that means as officers of ISF, you are responsible for promoting Iranian culture - not to be concerned with large-scale parties.
It's easy to gather a large group of people and that isn't necessarily commendable. Besides repeatedly offering dinner and dancing and even sometimes a singer at your events, how is all your hard work remembered? By consistently seeing the attendance of 200-300 Iranians at your events, you have so-far proven that there are lots of Iranians in Maryland.
Don't be afraid of a challenge or criticism, or worse, a "boring" culturally oriented event. So far, your parties are at the expense of the culture your organization was founded to promote. ISF has long proven it can attract large groups of people. But what are those people engaging in that they couldn't do at an Iranian concert? Your job as officers is not to entertain people.
Go back and read the ISF constitution before you are so quick squash dissent and measure success by how many tickets you sell per event. For example, assess how many non-Iranians are attending the activities and why are they there? And if you are going to interpret the constitution as encouraging parties, then you are entitled to that opinion because after all, you were elected.
Please do not take my words as empty criticism. The ISF officers work damn hard. There is a lot of beauracracy at UMD and it takes a lot of time both on and off campus (e.g. bargaining prices with DJs and restaurants who will serve the families and party-goers). But try to ensure that your hours are having lasting benefits to the community. There will never be a shortage of parties and Iranians are a social people by nature.
Demanding that Rana break away is not productive. Work together, collaborate (consider other college groups in the area) and try not to argue with each other. It's unproductive but tempting to draw lines. But how about trying to compromise? It may seem difficult but it will be worth it in the long run. Maybe there are 200 more people who will attend your events next time. Rana's doesn't stand alone in her criticism. There are many Iranians who are not attracted to ISF because of its party-oriented reputation.
Build on your past successes with the resources you have. Collaborate with Center for Persian Studies. Perhaps teachers in the department could offer credit for students who give presentations outside of class. I'm sure most of us would rather hear from our peers. It's cheap and it doesn't ask much of your time - but it goes a long way to explain a very rich culture.
Rana may not be an officer, but you are. Your job as an officer is to hear concerns of ISF members, not discount them or worse, ask them to leave the group. You claim that there are lots of friendships between Iranians thanks to ISF. I can testify to that. However, ISF holds general body meetings every week and those provide opportunity for people to make friends. By focusing on the events as Rana describes, you can strengthen the group's reputation and the reputation of Iranian people in a cultural context.
It's easy to blow off a challenge. But consider that as a group you are armed with your culture and the support of a very large Iranian community in Maryland. ISF can continue to be the successful group it is even when confronting challenges that go to the very heart of what ISF stands for at UMD. Comment