The community Iftar held March 31st took on an exciting twist as the Muslim Students Association (MSA) worked with the new Turkish Students Association (TSA) on campus to host a Turkish-themed Iftar.

It was the first event hosted by the TSA and turned out to be a huge success, with over 200 attendees even though it was only advertised a week in advance. It was open to the whole community, not just Muslims who came to the weekly community Iftar to break their fast. 

A variety of Turkish food was served, including yellow rice and doner, a Turkish kebab cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The audience favorite was a homemade walnut baklava made by junior TSA President Emre Aktas’ mother. The guest speaker of the dinner was the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Rochester, Melih Gungor.  

Junior Ayşe Gulbay, TSA’s business manager and co-founder, helped plan the event. She said that she believed Turkish students needed a community on campus, as she noticed there was not a concrete environment for a solid get-together. 

She said TSA was also created to promote awareness of Turkish culture, as not a lot of people know about Turkey. Gulbay said the association wanted to nurture “a safe space for Turkish students where they can feel the comfort of their own community, experience the things they used to feel back home.”

“It would also be a good way to connect Rochester locals with Turkish students at the University of Rochester,” she added.

In fact, it was with the help of Rochester’s local Turkish community that the Iftar dinner was a success. Gulbay said that they were “nervous about the turnout because it was their first event and advertised a week in advance, but the greater Turkish community beyond [UR] really helped to bring it together.”Aktas also shared similar feelings, saying, “This event not only provided a wonderful evening of cultural exchange and community building but also introduced our new club to the campus effectively.” 

MSA was also a big help in the success of the event and the TSA’s launch as an officially recognized organization on campus. They accommodated everything TSA needed for the Iftar on short notice, Aktas said.

A long-term goal for TSA is hosting fruitful events where people can leave with more insight into Turkish culture. They plan to organize more food- and music-centered events. Gulbay mentioned the idea of a Turkish festival and a game night, as Turkish culture includes many board games.

“Looking ahead to next semester, we have ambitious plans to expand our reach and impact,” said Emre Aktas, TSA’s president. “We aim to collaborate with other student organizations on campus, fostering a vibrant, inclusive environment where students can explore and appreciate diverse cultures and backgrounds.” 

Students can keep up with TSA on their Instagram (@uofrtsa), and Gulbay noted that you do not have to be Turkish or Muslim to attend their events.

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