Dr. Omar Ali, the new interim dean of the International Honors College, has had a very interesting year. In addition to his new position at the Honors College, he also gave a TED talk about the interplay of identity as someone with mixed religious and ethnic backgrounds. In an interview with The Carolinian, he answered questions about the international experience and how it might shape the future of UNCG and the country.
Ali’s talk for TEDxGreensboro explores what it was like for him to exist in a space that was definitively mixed. He was raised as an altar boy, following Catholicism, all while having what he referred to as a “foreign” name.
“I remember my mom asked me to cut off my beard. Why? So that I would look a little less Muslim-y,” he said.
Ali described his transition from an individual angry at what he was learning about Western imperialism and about what he saw as a loss of culture—“mi jente’”—and how he eventually conquered that anger.
When asked what he would like to accomplish within his role as the Honors College, Ali said, “I want the Honors College to help infuse the spirit and practice of play and performance across the campus and in the wider community.
In order for us to learn, to grow, to develop, we need to, if you will, ‘fake it ‘till we become it.’
This kind of ‘play’ or ‘performance’ where we build on each other’s strengths and relate to each other as ever-growing and developing is something we can all do as a way of building community, learn and continue developing ourselves.”
Ali has taught at UNCG for years, his subjects of interest largely focusing on the African Diaspora.
When asked whether or not his multicultural beliefs help to inform the International Honors College in any way, he was candid, saying, “Multiculturalism is what the world is all about.
Really, the only ‘purity’ is our shared humanity. And while I’m a particular, (and particularly proud) mutt— being Peruvian on one side and East Indian on the other and I teach African Diaspora history— we are all mutts, culturally, genetically and otherwise.
I want us all to embrace our muttness and that of others. It’s in seeing our inter-connectivity that we can get closer to other people. This is a very, very, good thing.”
Of Ali’s interpretation on the effect of the Honors College, and its unique international experience, he said, “We grow by stretching— or putting ourselves in situations that are slightly beyond what we are used to. Traveling abroad or having interactions with people who are very different from ourselves pushes us to grow.
So, the experience is one that can offer a lot of growth.
Sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but that’s ok, to a certain extent.
It’s often in the awkwardness or discomfort of things that we have our greatest epiphanies.”
Ali intends to be very open and receptive to students who are curious about what goes on in the Lloyd’s Honors College, what it is about and what it hopes to achieve within the next few years.
He encourages any students to drop by or email him with any questions.
“We learn by embracing that which we don’t know,” Ali said, “That is, being open and jumping in is the way to learn.
It’s this playful spirit that we want to cultivate via the Honors College.
So let’s continue to jump in, listen, learn … and share.
I want to meet each and every student on campus who is interested in what we do in Honors (and bring a friend!). My e-mail is email@example.com. Let’s have a conversation!”