Different Cultures Unite Through a Growing Organization

By Frances Clause

With more diversity on Youngstown State University’s campus, MALAINA, an Honors College organization, aims to unite, educate and empower students with different ethnic backgrounds.

MALAINA, which stands for Middle-Eastern, African-American, Latino, Asian, International, Native American and Alaskan, was formed by Jasmine Smyles, a Navarro executive fellow of the Honors College.

“When I was a freshman, a former graduate student and I were talking about how we wanted a program that would unify the Honors College’s different cultures,” Smyles said. “The program was called ALANA in its first year, and it was a mentoring program.”

Noor Khalayleh, another MALAINA leader, said the name change was decided when she and Smyles came to realize ALANA wasn’t as inclusive as they would have liked it to be.

“It didn’t take my race into consideration, which is Middle Eastern, or the international students,” she said. “Adding the ‘M’ and ‘I’ was just another way to better unite and educate people of different backgrounds.”

Khalayleh first learned about MALAINA through the weekly Honors College emails, and she took the lead of the organization along with Smyles.

“MALAINA was having its very first meeting, and I was excited to join such an inclusive group,” she said. “I was the only one to show up, so Jasmine and I spent the hour talking about what diversity means, how it exists on YSU’s campus and brainstormed ideas for future events.”

MALAINA educates students through various activities. These include “TED Talk” style presentations, meetings and potlucks where members bring ethnic food for others to try.

“For the TED Talks, members can present anything that relates to their culture, race and ethnicity,” Khalayleh said. “This serves to empower members to embrace who they are and show people a slice of themselves.”

Smyles is looking forward to MALAINA’s next meeting in Fok Hall on Oct. 18.

“A member will be doing a presentation on Vietnamese culture and bringing in food from Pho Saigon in Boardman,” she said. “Since Hispanic Heritage month is from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, a friend of mine will also come to teach some dances.”

Amy Cossentino, director of the Honors College, said when she met Smyles on her first day at YSU, she saw a spark and knew she would be a leader on campus. Since then, Smyles has been very passionate about MALAINA for the past three years.

“A couple of weeks ago, I came back to Fok Hall after a meeting and saw Jasmine smiling ear-to-ear with a full room of students attending MALAINA,” she said. “It was such a beautiful moment watching her give her talk and accomplish goals we had discussed a couple of years ago when the group was just starting.”

Cossentino said the meetings are not just for students in the Honors College because everyone has different stories and gifts to share.

“Through MALAINA, everyone can find common ways to interact and learn about one another which has the power to enrich lives,” she said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of Jasmine, and if MALAINA has such a big impact on me, I can only imagine the impact it has on the students.”

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