April is Arab American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich culture and contributions of the diverse population of Arab Americans in the United States. It’s the third year that the month has been formally recognized by the federal government. To recognize the occasion, The Daily is putting a spotlight on members of the Case Western Reserve University community who identify as Arab American.
Decades ago, members of Diala Izhiman’s family journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States with a select few possessions including, as she put it, “an olive branch that encapsulated years of culture, traditions and customs.” While their arrival marked an exciting new beginning, Izhiman’s relatives still held their culture close.
“To be an individual whose heart yearned for two identities, two languages [and] two cultures is a true testimony for the beauty of the diversity our world holds,” she said.
For Izhiman, Arab American Heritage Month is a celebration of this testimony—and she hopes others come to understand how “rich the Arab American experience is.”
“Most Arab-Americans come from backgrounds of resilience and hard work, and we have come to be truly appreciative of the opportunities and blessings in disguise,” she explained. “Having that identity provides a safety net to me and a sense of belonging. Knowing I’ll always have a friend in the Tunisian, or Lebanese, or Saudi stranger in the street is what makes anywhere home.”
A new home
Izhiman is from Jerusalem, Palestine, but has lived in seven cities throughout her life. She considers herself to have been molded by all of those stops—Cleveland included, where she’s a third-year student double majoring in communication sciences and psychology at Case Western Reserve.
“I came a long way from just simply recognizing [Cleveland] as a… city on the map, to calling it a new home,” Izhiman said. “It being the place where [I’ve grown] as a person, an intellect, and as a future professional is a truth I cannot be more grateful for.”
During her college search, Izhiman sought a university that allowed her to explore multiple academic areas simultaneously. She found that at CWRU, which admits undergraduates as a whole—not to a major, department or school.
“Being able to make the best of my undergraduate experience to better cater [to] my interests and strengths was a big component of why I [chose] CWRU,” Izhiman noted, adding she’s able to pursue her love for languages as well through Arabic tutoring.
Izhiman’s interest in communication sciences, and audiology specifically, goes back to her belief that everyone has a right to the same opportunities. Audiology is everywhere around us, according to her—from the AI applications Alexa and Siri to friends or peers who have hearing impairments or professors who have vocal fatigue during lectures.
She’s eager to be a link in the chain that connects those people to a world of possibilities.
“I understand how much of a difference an individual in my field makes on numerous lives,” she added, “and cannot underscore the great interface with humanity in it.”
Izhiman is also vice president of the UWC@CWRU student organization and sits on multiple university committees, including the university’s Common Reading Committee and the Faculty Senate Minority Affairs Committee.
Additionally, Izhiman recently accepted a position at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where she will assist in research with doctors specializing in neuroscience, computer science and audiology. When she graduates, Izhiman hopes to pursue a Doctor of Audiology degree.