By Manar Barsi
The Markaz Resource Center was born out of student and community advocacy for over a decade, finally being established in the spring of 2013. The Markaz, whose name comes from the Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Turkish and Urdu word for “center,” supports a vibrant community of students who identify with or are interested in Muslim experiences both here and around the world. You can listen to The Markaz’s beautiful origin story as told by student organizers here.
The Markaz is easily my favorite place on campus, as well as the space I miss the most. I would do anything to be able to run up the Nitery stairs and rush over to lay down on the couch, unreasonably out of breath. To make a cup of tea and accidentally go through a bag of Trader Joe’s Dried Mango Slices. To hug a friend, share a story or laugh until my chest hurts.
I was initially very hesitant to step foot in the Markaz. As a wide-eyed first year, I was so afraid that in order to be a member of the Markaz community, you had to fit a certain mold. I was terrified of confining myself to an identity and of feeling like I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until Ramadan of my frosh year that I began to feel deeply homesick. While I had formed wonderful relationships in my dorm community and across campus, I yearned to be around others who experienced and existed in the world, and at Stanford, in similar ways as me. So, on a whim, I applied to staff the Markaz. Meeting Cassie Garcia, the Associate Director of the Markaz, I instantly felt understood. Her warmth, compassion and passion for the space pushed me to reimagine what my community could look like at Stanford.
The Markaz is organically a place where you can find people chatting, taking their mid-day nap, enjoying a cup of tea, grinding out a p-set, engaging in thought-provoking conversations or simply existing. As a Sudanese-American, Muslim-American and Black woman on a campus like Stanford’s, it would be an understatement to say that I struggle to reconcile all of my identities. Regardless of where you are in your self-discovery process, the Markaz, with all its light and warmth and joy, meets you where you need it to. Wherever you are at, whatever you are bringing into the space or choosing to leave at the door, it takes you as you are. Stanford, in all its glory, can also be incredibly isolating. The Markaz reminds me that no matter where I am, and no matter how difficult Stanford gets, I am surrounded and uplifted by a loving, diverse and strong community.
My sophomore fall, for an afternoon chai (casual community space every Tuesday afternoon), El Centro so graciously let me use their kitchen to make the event’s tea. For the first time since I had been at Stanford, I brewed a few thermoses of chai bil laban (tea with milk). I learned how to make chai bil laban by the time I was nine, and whenever I am home, I’ll brew my dad and myself a cup every evening. Being able to share such a special part of my culture with the Markaz community made my heart warm.
After shelter-in-place began in March, we knew we needed to find an innovative way to maintain and cultivate meaningful community virtually. As Markaz staff, we took advantage of the extra weeks before Spring quarter to develop a remote platform, known as the Digital Markaz. The website sought to recreate the physical space and compile all our resources and events into one place for community members. As a people-person, it has been really difficult in quarantine to not always be surrounded by the people that I love. However, I am a firm believer that we can develop sincere and intimate relationships with others, even in this time where we are all distant. In fact, I believe human connection is more important than ever. Weekly Afterzoom Chai has been an incredible constant in quarantine, and it is always special to convene with the community, even if it’s just to play online charades or Pictionary.
To the frosh — the Markaz community can’t wait to meet you virtually, and we absolutely cannot wait to make you a cup of tea in the space.
Contact Manar Barsi at mbarsi ‘at’ stanford.edu.