Written by Khwaja Ahmed, with the help of Ahmed Abdelgany and Omar Elsayed. Edited by Engie Salama.
As a graduating senior it’s common to hear that once you graduate you become irrelevant to (Muslim Student Association) MSA’s and the college structure. The real world is upon you, college is over and with it so is the MSA lifestyle. I’ve always had heavy qualms with this notion, mostly because it permeates beyond the college borders and into people falling off the map after graduation. It props up a paradigm of active community members being under a certain age and taking a hiatus until they’ve grown old to reintegrate into the community. Pushing this idea of detachment from the community based on phases of life is lazy, unimaginative and irresponsible. It detaches the individual from the community as if to say the only way to they could serve the community is as a college student in MSA. This is false and limiting: people are never irrelevant or obsolete. We grow until the day we die. We will take different trajectories from one another once the homogeneity of college life wears off but this is not to say that we’ve lost the ability to give valuable input into the community. There is validity in temporary leaves from service as to figure out one’s life, take the next step in terms of career and to develop new skills or sharpen existing. But these should not be roadblocks to service in the long run and can also be dealt with in parallel. There two important trajectories to follow on this, one is the role of an alumni, the second of an active member of the larger community. For now, I want to focus on the role of alumni in relation to helping their MSA. Graduating from college does not mean we become irrelevant to the MSA or the larger community, but it means we must reinvent ourselves to serve the community at a different capacity.
This myth stems from a limited view of what MSA’s are or can be, they are relegated as resume builders for college students lasting only four years. The first step in taking apart this image is reanalyzing what the MSA can be. Suggesting MSA’s are strictly for college students guided mostly by social justice movements or a social club for those looking to make friends relies on a warped image. The role MSA plays should not be confined by this thinking. There is no reason for why the MSA should just be a college only experience or seeing our duty of serving the community finishes with leaving the MSA. The foundation of the MSA is not on passing social justice movements but rooted in the strong sense of establishing a community working towards a better world in totality.
For example, Corporate ladders give employees years to develop and grow so that they can serve the companies, along with the option of horizontal movement. Along with this renewed outlook the first trajectory of the role of the alumni comes in. Claiming that one becomes peripheral upon graduation since they do not have the same time flexibility comes from this narrow scope of human capital and vision of an MSA. If anything, graduation would help one become a stronger asset to the organisation, not the opposite. Having experience beyond a college campus is needed for growth. The various paths they carve out help widen the uniqueness of experiences they have to offer. College students, just as any grouping of people, tend towards groupthink validating ideas in a circular way without innovation or progress. Variety is essential to diverse growth. But the most important advantage of viewing MSA’s as part of a larger ecosystem is the greater depth of vision. The role moves away from simply serving the needs of college students for a duration of four year to developing productive members of the Muslim community for years beyond.
Mapping the importance of the first trajectory with a closer look helps paint the larger potential that MSA’s could have by broadening their vision. The first notion to deconstruct is the idea of the MSA as only for college students; indeed, there are inherent limitations when the leadership and constituency have a four year lifespan. Putting the all burdens of development and operations on college students, from fundraising, programming to logistics and vision, is a hefty chore for student leadership. They are already pulled from angles and receive no material compensation for their MSA work. This is not to undermine the efforts of MSA leadership and active members who are proficient in developing these aspects of their MSA, but to broaden the scope of those involved in this process.
Alumni involvement is not to co-opt the work of MSA members but to add on to the efforts. Pushing graduates outside the framework of MSA operations does not add any value to the organization. Alumni have great skills to offer to the MSA as an institution. These are diverse and can help the institution grow to greater levels. One easy way they can give back is through financial donations, though an important contribution it should not be overplayed nor guide the conversation with them. They are not piggy banks to be broken open. Instead, use alumni to their full potential by ensuring their perspective and advice is included in long term visions or ask them to take roles in projects that would be difficult for college students to execute by themselves. This is where the institution grows on a larger level and moves away from the monotony of repetition.
Listening to voices outside the established framework is a perfect way to move away from repetitious action and develop new programs or expand existing. To briefly go over some avenues of ways alumni can help the MSA, one can improve existing programs depending on their field of expertise of personal skillset. One tangible example would be to help the spiritual plan of the MSA; this could range from giving halaqat, teaching Arabic, or working to improve the existing curriculum set up. Of course this would necessitate prior training or experience with Islamic development. Another way to develop the resources MSA has is to aid with post college transition. This includes reviewing resumes and cover letters along with interview prep and career guidance. What is seen as unmoveable is now subject to change, college students aren’t exclusively building the vision and path of their community.Long term projects like developing food pantries or local clinics could also be now in the grasp of the MSA. With help from alumni the fear of year turnover rates is pushed to the side, more intensive projects are doable. These are general avenues of how to help and are open to manipulation depending on the needs of the MSA but this growth is contingent on accepting help from alumni.
Fully addressing the needs of the individual after graduation in personal and professional growth is still needed. Addressing them in totality is tied into the second trajectory of involvement with the larger community, for now the focus is on the immediate break from college life. It is fiction to assume that all recent graduates are capable or willing to give back. Everyone is on a different playing field upon graduation and will need time and a unique way to give back. This space is good, it allows for maturity to occur outside the college MSA setting. Notice that many of the suggestions given require the individual to develop their skills and own paths. It is because neither MSA or college give one all of life’s skills and MSA’s should not be seen as the sole medium of involvement. Beyond the immediate ways to give back, advice and holding halaqat for example, cultivation of the skill is needed. That is what MSA’s need, alumni with skills outside the college setting to assist them in growth. An alumni who departs for a few years but comes back with the know how of Arabic or how to establish long running institutes is a highly valuable resource. The way forward is through developing the individual for the community. Muslim Student Associations can be hotbeds of change and growth, making them so is on us.