Bassem Youssef visits ASU political science class


October 15, 2021

Bassem Youssef is no stranger to politics. His political satire show "AlBernameg," which was similar to that of Jon Stewart’s "The Daily Show," averaged 30 million viewers a week in Egypt.

In January 2022, ASU Gammage will be hosting Youssef as part of their Beyond series, which features artists that bring national and global perspectives. On Oct. 14, he was a special surprise guest in the fifth annual ASU Gammage Beyond Series Preview Night.  Man wearing a face covering standing at the front of a classroom. Bassem Youssef, who will be performing at ASU Gammage in 2022, spoke with students in a School of Politics and Global Studies course on Oct. 14. Download Full Image

“(Youssef) is a brilliant commentator on societies and political structures, and he happens to do that through brilliant comedy,” said Michael Reed, senior director of programs and organizational initiatives at ASU Gammage.

“We always try to bring really compelling, multiple perspectives to the Beyond series from very accomplished world-renowned artists, and he fits all of those bills.”

In 2011, the Arab SpringA wave of pro-democratic protests, revolutions and civil wars that have swept some Arab nations since 2011. arrived in Egypt and protesters took to the streets seeking the overthrowal of their president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak.

In response to the political turmoil, Youssef, who was a practicing surgeon at the time, created short satirical YouTube videos from his house focusing on the Egyptian government. His meteoric rise in popularity led to an offer from an Egyptian TV network to create "AlBernameg."

Although nearly a third of the country’s population watched the show, the leaders of the Egyptian government were not fans, and in 2013, public prosecutors ordered the arrest of Youssef for insulting the president and Islam.

As tensions continued to rise, Youssef decided to leave for the United States to continue his comedy career.

While in Tempe, Youssef visited School of Politics and Global Studies Instructor Daniel Pout’s comparative government class.

Reed said that ASU Gammage always finds a way for the Beyond series artists to engage with students and that Youssef, in particular, provides an informed perspective regarding some of the political and philosophical challenges the U.S. and globe faces.  

“He is able to do all of this in the medium of comedy,” Reed said. “(Youssef) can probably help bring people together a little.”

Arizona State University students in Pout’s class asked Youssef questions on topics ranging from authoritarianism to fake news to political comedy.

Youssef reassured students who asked if the United States showed authoritarian trends. From his perspective, the country has a critical mass that would stand against it. He shared that this was not the same experience in the Middle East, which was often under military and religious rule.

“The independence that the states have here that can actually stand in the face of a centralized government decision is a huge safety valve for you,” Youssef said. He joked that his response to Americans who are unhappy with the national government would be: “Dude, I’m in California. I don’t care.”

Students also asked Youssef about his thoughts of state-run media, to which he noted the commonality across cultures is the state-media’s use of fear and how it points blame for problems on certain groups.

“People will always choose security over democracy and freedom,” he said.

He continued that when countries around Egypt were falling apart, the state media would ask, “Do you want to be like Syria? Do you want to be like Libya?” Youssef joked that this happens in America as well, whether it’s “war on Christmas” or “brown people are replacing us.”

Youssef also discussed cancel culture and the idea of certain demographics and topics being off-limits to comedy. He emphasized that although power dynamics play a role, nobody should be immune to satire and comedy, even if it's offensive.

“Where do you draw the line? And most importantly, who draws the line? Because whoever draws the line has the power to make the line recede,” Youssef said.

The dynamic of how political comedy might vary across ideologies was also covered. Youssef shared that, in the Middle East, he saw comedians sponsored by the government but that it was “terrible comedy.”

“In my opinion, comedy is supposed to be subversive,” Youssef told the class. “It makes you laugh because it surprises you. When you hold certain things sacred, it is a way to control people — whether that is religion, sex or politics. It is not really like left versus right. It is more about using comedy to break down taboos.”

One student asked about the negativity of the news and if that affects him as someone who needs to be informed as a political comedian.

“Absolutely,” Youssef answered. “That is why you make fun of it. That’s the only way that you survive. You make fun of how people respond to it — how they spin it.”

Youssef said his upcoming show at ASU Gammage is a two-act stand-up performance covering his life as a doctor in Egypt during the revolution and as an immigrant coming to America during the current political climate.

“It is more of a human experience," he said. "It’s not your usual stand-up where you just say jokes. It’s my personal story, and I think it’s a story that could be relatable to everybody.”

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies

480-727-9901

 
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Personalized online orientation modules serve incoming students

ASU switches from in-person orientation to a customized digital experience.
October 15, 2021

ASU collaboration makes shift from in-person, daylong program to digital experience on multiple days throughout the year

Arizona State University has created a personalized digital orientation experience that incoming Sun Devils can access now.

The New Student Orientation Experience, which replaces the daylong, in-person orientation program that families attended for many years, went live on Oct. 5 for Sun Devils who are coming to campus in spring and fall 2022.

The digital experience, created through universitywide collaboration and customized by the University Technology Office, includes three modules — two asynchronoususers can access on their own time and one live event. The experience gives students information they need at just the right time. For example, students learn academic information in the fall and move-in details in the summer.

The New Student Orientation Experience is a huge institutional collaboration and shift, according to Safali Patel, associate vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services.

“For at least last 20 years, we were doing new student orientation for incoming first-year students as an in-person program,” she said. “We would invite them to campus from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to sit in a ballroom to listen to a bunch of presentations and to meet with an academic adviser.

“It was a long, overwhelming firehouse-of-information type of day where we told them everything they needed to know in one day.”

Back when ASU had a first-year class of 5,000, orientation required about 30 in-person programs.

“But now we have a first-year class of 14,000, and we were doing over 100 programs because we wanted to keep them a smaller size,” she said. “And each one had hundreds of staff from every college, academic advising, parking, the bookstore, dining, student organizations — every unit.”

As ASU grew and best practices for acclimating students were discovered, the university shifted the model.

A universitywide committee started working on the revised model in 2018; however, the pandemic accelerated the timeline of the switch from in person to digital, according to Sarah Perrone, director of new student programs at ASU.

“Students do a lot of things online in their own lives, which is normal for people who are 18 to 20 years old, but it was a huge internal culture shift to move online,” Perrone said.

Orientation was online for students entering in 2020 and 2021, but the experience has been refined for the group of Sun Devils who are now getting accepted. For example, the content was condensed and streamlined so that now there are three modules instead of four, and everything is fully accessible on mobile devices.

In the second module, students attend a live Zoom event, with sessions running March through July.  Sessions are customized by each academic college, and students receive their course schedule for their first semester.

The final module, ASU Ready, releases in early July and includes final steps and tips that students want, such as what to pack and where to park.

“The key is that now it’s the timely delivery of information,” Patel said.

“When they were here in person on April 1, they heard everything from ‘Here’s how to buy health insurance’ to ‘Here’s the size of your bed.’

“In March, some people want that, but others are about to take their AP exams and go to prom.”

Students do not feel that this is just a generic thing because it’s completely customized to them."

— Safali Patel, associate vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services

The universitywide team did an exhaustive amount of assessment before refining the orientation experience. They examined what students clicked on and what they avoided, and they called students and held focus groups for feedback. Student orientation staff also sent over 80,000 text messages.

“They would check in with them and say, ‘I’m your person, let me help you with this process,” Perrone said.

“We were asking questions every single day and making real-time changes,” Patel said.

One result was that they clarified the language.

Last year’s program was called the New Student Experience, but the team added back the word “orientation,” to further connect the purpose and experience to a term that resonates with students and families, Patel said.

“That’s a word they understood and knew the purpose of,” she said.

ASU is the only university that is doing a digital orientation at a huge scale that’s completely personalized, with all the information synced, Patel said. For example, the dashboard keeps track of which tasks have been completed, such as showing their math placement score, student ID photo and immunization record status.

“They can see their progress, which is validating,” Perrone said.

All communications are aligned with the students’ progress through the orientation experience to ensure information regarding next steps delivered via email and text messages are relevant and helpful from the time they are admitted through the first day of classes.

Patel said that even with 14,000 first-year Sun Devils, ASU’s focus is that each student is not just a number.

“Students do not feel that this is just a generic thing because it’s completely customized to them,” she said.

“One of our biggest goals was that we did not want to lose any of that human touch because we moved to technology instead of being in a ballroom.”

ASU also offers a parallel digital experience for families in which the three modules match the students’.

“Families are the drivers of getting tasks done,” Perrone said. “If a student needs to turn in their immunization record, they might not know where it is, but if you tell the parent, it’s magical how much faster that gets done.”

Students also have the opportunity to attend optional Zoom sessions on topics such as housing, student employment, Greek life and study abroad. The session on housing drew 1,400 students.

“They were really all about anything having to do with involvement and being around other people,” Perrone said.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News

480-727-4503