Doha: Journalism and Communication students from Northwestern University in Qatar travelled to Washington, D.C., to survey political attitudes and organisation of Arab Americans, and how that may influence the upcoming US presidential election on November 6.
NU-Q students conducted a series of interviews with political analysts in the US capital. They explored the issues influencing the Arab American vote; dual identity, discrimination, and local and national interest groups.
The students launched a website called arabamreeka2012.org to showcase their video and written reports on the topic.
The trip to Washington was part of a field reporting course designed to impart the young journalism students with knowledge and experience in reporting on election campaigns and governing process.
NU-Q dean and CEO Everette E. Dennis has stressed on the importance of developing political reporting skills for aspiring media professionals of all kinds. “Using the US Presidential election to learn about politics, governance and the role of ethnic minorities, in this instance Arab-Americans, was a good way to grapple with the realities of how democratic societies work—for better and worse,” the dean said.
The programme included freshman Angel Polacco who says the trip helped her develop a “nose for news,” as one of her professors put it. “the most interesting thing I learned during this trip is that three are people who are actually willing to speak on the record, moreover on controversial issues. People are very open in terms of speaking their mind here,” she said.
Polacco interviewed Warren David, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination committee, and Corey Saylor, national legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, on how discrimination based on religion and ethnicity has not only discouraged many Arabs American from taking part in the elections, but has also influenced the way they vote.
“In the past, we have seen that the community is able to shift its vote from party to party because of the promises presidential candidates make and the policies they advocate,” Saylor told the students, adding that in the 2012 election, the likelihood is that they are going to vote Democratic. According to a poll conducted by the Arab American Institute in 2010, 50 per cent of Arab Americans identified themselves as Democrats, 25 per cent as Republicans, and 23 per cent as Independents.
“I think it’s important to report on Arab American voters because it’s an issue that is seriously underreported,” added Polacco.
Her classmate Jaimee Haddad, an Arab American of Lebanese descent, agrees.
“As a minority group, Arab Americans are key players in the US election because they are a fairly organised community, and they are active voters, yet they don’t get as much national attention,” says Haddad.
Haddad also interviewed key figures from local and national Arab American interest groups, including the New Dominion Political Action Committee, which works to register Arab American voters and endorses local and state candidates for office in Virginia,
“In addition to reporting, interviewing, writing and editing, I also wanted to give the students a real taste for being a campaign reporter in Washington,” said Jennifer Koons, who is a lecturer in the Journalism program at NU-Q and led the reporting trip. The students were required to complete a course on American Politics, taught by Political Science Professor Sean Burns, in Doha this spring before they traveled to D.C. The class provided the students with a background and familiarity with US politics, which “really allowed them to hit the ground running,” said Koons.
North Western Qatar is the first international branch for the American University, they offer a bachelor of science in journalism or communication. The university was established on May 5, 2008 in Qatar Foundation.
— Mostafa Sheshtawy is a journalist based in Qatar