Arab Fest celebrates diversity, showcases Middle Eastern cultures

Over the weekend, the Arab American Club of Knoxville and the Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee held its fourth annual Arab Fest on pedestrian walkway.

The two day festival showcased food, dancing, crafts and various demonstrations of Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

Erin Darby, assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at UT, is the co-coordinator of the event.

“It began when my students came back from their study abroad tour [in Jordan] in 2013, and they were frustrated that they didn’t have the ability to share their experience with the rest of the UT community,” Darby said. “So, between UT and the Arab American Club of Knoxville, what was a tiny, little baby idea sort of jumped forth into this crazy festival, and it’s gotten bigger every year.”

“It’s basically a way to share the best of Arab culture, not just with UT students but the whole community,” Darby said.

There were several booths lining the circle of pedestrian walkway. Authentic Middle Eastern food from Yassin’s Falafel House, Mirage and other individuals were available to attendees. People could also smoke hookah, get a henna tattoo or purchase authentic beaded home decor and clothes.

In the middle of all of the vendors was a stage for people to sing, dance and play Arab music. On Friday, there was a musician playing a doumbek, which is a style of Middle Eastern drum. Students were encouraged to come up and learn the Arab group folk dance dabke. There were plenty of smiles in the chain of individuals dancing around to the music both days of the festival.

Among guests at the event was the City of Knoxville Mayor, Madeline Rogero. When speaking to the attendees of the festival, Mayor Rogero admitted to this being her first year attending the festival.

“I love coming to our ethnic festivals in our city,” Rogero said. “Thanks to UT, and Tennessee Valley Authority, and Oak Ridge National Lab and a lot of our businesses here we are a very diverse city and I think it’s really important that we celebrate the diversity we have here.”

Some students like junior Jasmine Parks attended the event as a volunteer for extra credit.

“I just love cultural things,” Jasmine said. “Professor Darby asked that we all come out, and I did, and it is a lot of fun.”

For future Arab Fests, Darby would like to see more people come out and learn about Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

If you have any interest in being involved with or helping plan future Arab Fests, you can email Darby at

Featured image by Nima Kasraie, obtained through Creative Commons

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Opinion: Old City Java is an artistic hideaway

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Knoxville’s Old City: where the city’s young and hip residents unite. There is a certain vibe to this place that almost anyone can enjoy. High-end restaurants, bars and clubs and most importantly, the beloved coffee shop Old City Java. This favorite spot is always busy with coffee-loving visitors and is ready to warm you up as the holiday season approaches.

When I say that atmosphere is almost as important as the coffee that is served, I absolutely mean it. I also immediately think of “Java” (as us natives refer to it) when I want to be inspired by the old and eclectic look.

The “Starry Night” ceiling is one of Old City Java’s most distinctive features. //Photo by Katy Hill

This tiny shop is defined by its exposed brick walls, worn hard wood floors and the iconic “Starry Night” ceiling. Indeed, it was the painted ceiling in the second room that truly made me fall in love with this spot. Just look up and you will see all the artistic inspiration you need for the day!

Take a look around at any spot in the shop and you will see intriguing local art and photography. I sometimes find it hard to focus on my homework because I am simply taken away by the talent that is displayed throughout.

This artistic talent directly translates into the coffee and pastries that are made daily and only adds to the overall experience. Expertly steamed milk makes these espresso drinks truly standout amongst others. My usual drink at Java is a cappuccino, no sugar no flavors. When milk is steamed correctly, the foam should be slightly sweet and very frothy, leaving a wonderful mouthfeel to enhance the espresso.

This is exactly why I order my cappuccino every time.

You can also never go wrong with a black coffee here. They will serve two different roasts and will explain in detail the flavor notes and the region in which it was grown and roasted.

I mentioned pastries earlier, and I honestly believe I could write a whole post talking about these things. I am not usually one to eat a pastry with my coffee or espresso because I believe my indulgence should be in the handcrafted drink that was made specifically for me.

However, Old City Java has proven to be my exception.

As soon as you walk in, you immediately see the whole set up of every delicious baked treat you could want alongside your favorite coffee. My first experience with this little piece of heaven was the blueberry muffin. Juicy whole blueberries filled this little confection and burst in my mouth with each bite. I am currently enjoying a pumpkin muffin (‘tis the season) and it has proved to be just as delicious with its powerful cinnamon and pumpkin spice flavor.

Old City Java also creates homemade pie, scones, cookies, croissants, and other wholesome treats that are just as delicious as those muffins.

If you wish to experience a classic Knoxville hub, a trip to Old City Java is a must. Just don’t be surprised if you get swept away by the artistic overload!

You can find Old City Java at 109 S Central Street.

Join me next week for my final and absolute favorite coffee spot in Knoxville!

Photos by Katy Hill

Edited by Taylor Owens

Profile: Arab-American author, consultant speaks on racial stereotypes

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In the 1970s, Dr. Jack Shaheen’s children would wake up early and enjoy Saturday morning cartoons starring their favorite cartoon heroes, Bugs Bunny and Popeye. One Saturday morning, however, Shaheen found his children watching an episode of their cartoon heroes hurting Arabian characters.

An Arab-American himself, this moment sparked Shaheen’s interest to investigate how Arabs and Muslims are portrayed in United States media. Now an author, former CBS news consultant and professor emeritus, Shaheen has made a name for himself in racial and ethnic stereotyping.

“I just began looking how television portrayed Arabs and I looked at eight years of television programming, everything from documentaries to sitcoms to dramas to children’s cartoons, and that led to my first book,” he said.

After studying years of programming, Shaheen concluded that Arabs and Muslims are mostly played as threats. He added that since Sept. 11, this image has intensified to not just Arabs and Muslims, but also Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans.

“We’ve had monolithic images of hate and distress, meaning we seldom—if ever—see an Arab or a Muslim like a normal human being,” he said. “The American Arabs and American Muslims who were (once) invisible in the media are now being targeted as a threat to this country.”

Shaheen has written several novels on the subject. His award-winning novel “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People” was turned into a documentary by the Media Education Foundation in 2006. Shaheen said that it was an off-and-on 10 year project that has had a “profound impact” worldwide.

Krista Weigand, UT associate professor of political science and a faculty fellow of the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy, was influenced by Shaheen in the early 1990s when she had to read one of his novels in college. She now focuses her time on helping spread diversity awareness to Knoxville and UT.

“Any time there’s stereotypes and racism and simplification of an entire group of people, it’s really frustrating because (…) sometimes governments make bad policies, people are mistreated and in some cases violence against these people,” she said. “None of these things should be happening. There’s no reason based on stereotypes that people should be treated in certain ways.”

Shaheen headlined the second annual Arab Fest Thursday in the Toyota Auditorium at the Baker Center. Weigand thought that Shaheen was the right choice to start Arab Fest because of his knowledge and critical acclaim in Hollywood.

“I think the more people understand different cultures and also get to know people, individuals from those cultures, then they say ‘Oh wow, you’re not at all like I thought these people were,’” she said. “Once people are familiar with those cultures, they won’t be as nervous or scared about them.”

Shaheen said he has seen recent efforts from the media trying to “change the status quo of images.” One example is “Shimmer and Shine,” a Nickelodeon series that Shaheen was a cultural consultant for. He hopes to see this progression continue because the U.S. is the global leader of exporting entertainment.

“I’ve always said that my goal is to see Arabs and Muslims being portrayed like a normal group, no better or no worse,” he said.

Feature image by Thomas Delgado

Edited by Taylor Owens

Gallery: Buddhist monks work on sand mandala



Photos by Thomas Delgado

I-House event offers glimpse of Ethiopian culture

Tamnnet Kidanu is originally from Minnesota, but her family originates from Ethiopia. Now a graduate assistant at the International House of UT, she and other graduate assistant Maria Lungu wanted to be a part of “International Coffeehouse,” a weekly program that focuses on international countries that is both fun and educational.

The event takes place on Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Mary E. Greer room of Hodges Library at the I-House, and invites students to enjoy free coffee, tea and food from a different international country. Along with free food and beverages, the Coffeehouse gives students a relaxed atmosphere to meet new friends and learn about new cultures.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Kidanu was able to shed light on her family’s culture as the Coffeehouse focused on Ethiopia.

Ethiopian music played as students lined up for authentic Sambusa, a fried pastry with a vegetarian or beef filling, catered by Gosh, an Ethiopian restaurant located on Sutherland Ave.

Kidanu believes that because the Coffeehouse focuses on programming the event for students, they are able to make the educational experience fun.

“Even though this is only two hours a week, it gives people the opportunity to hang out and talk to each other,” she said.

Kidanu’s goals for the Coffeehouse go beyond just networking students, but also networking with companies around the area.

She hopes to “develop a partnership with more ethnic restaurants” to provide students “the rare opportunity” to eat free, authentic foreign foods instead of choosing the same campus fast food restaurant.

Student volunteers help with events such as cooking demonstrations, culture nights, and Coffeehouse’s, and are staying busy this week with different International Education Week events. International Education Week events will wrap up Friday with the International Fest.

Volunteers can sign up to be in charge of different week’s Coffeehouse, although Lungu and Kidanu attend every other Wednesday.

Lungu said that I-House volunteers are comprised both of graduate and undergraduate, international and American students alike.

To get involved, visit the International House website at

Featured image by Thomas Delgado

Edited by Hannah Hunnicutt 

Grammy nominated singer makes surprise appearance at student ministry kick-off

Nashville native, former Knoxville resident and Grammy nominated singer, Dave Barnes, surprised students at The Walk with a performance Wednesday night Aug. 26 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Barnes helped to kick-off the semester with The Walk alongside Sterl the Pearl, the official DJ for Tennessee home games in Neyland Stadium. The Walk serves as a student ministry at the University of Tennessee, with a home base through Sevier Heights Baptist Church.

Barnes performed a short set of his top hits including “Little Lies” and “God Gave Me You.” The singer-songwriter received a Grammy nomination for “God Gave Me You” after Blake Shelton chose to record the song and sold over a million units.

As the curtain rose to reveal Barnes on stage, sophomore Jordan Lee said, “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

The Walk will hold a weekly service at Sevier Heights Baptist Church on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Head Pastor of the ministry, Tim Miller, stated that the purpose of The Walk is to reflect the purpose and the personality of Jesus. They aim to change the way that college students see church.

For more information on The Walk ministry and how to get involved, check out their website or follow them on Instagram @insidethewalk.

Barnes will also perform in Knoxville on Oct. 22 to continue the Two Birds/ One Stone Tour. For more information, check out his website.

Edited by Jessica Carr