“How would you describe yourself to someone when you are first meeting them?”
In terms of personality traits, I’m extremely open-minded, creative, and loving. I try to be as nice as possible.
*we laugh* “Sometimes that can be hard.”
It’s not hard, I just want to be nice to everyone unless they give me a specific reason not to be. I wish everyone was nice as well. I think our world would be a better place if everyone had that mentality. Also, I’d say that I’m very energetic, especially about things I care about like my family and friends, and even strangers. I’d give an arm and a leg for anyone that needed help. I just care. Maybe a little too much.
“Is that something that your parent instilled in you?”
Yes, it’s definitely something that both my parents instilled in me. I am a second-generation American, originally from Egypt. I was born and raised here in a very diverse community and I have friends who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, et cetera, and friends of no faith as well. A fair majority of my friends have come from very diverse backgrounds and I’ve learned a lot about the world just by getting to know them. I really like being able to listen to their experiences and to share my experiences with them as a second-generation American who is in tune with both the Egyptian and American cultures.
“Where are you from?”
I’ve from Virginia Beach, Virginia. That’s where I was born and raised. But Cairo is definitely my second home.
“Have you been able to visit Egypt?”
I actually went last year, which was amazing as I got to see my extended family. However, there is definitely a sense of culture shock when I go and come back, just because the two places are different in many respects. At the same time, being a second-generation American enables me to have the best of both worlds. I appreciate and cherish the fact that I was able to grow up in such a diverse community, as well as have the background that I have.
“What is something from your background and your heritage that you end up talking to people about a lot?”
The sense of openness and warmness, and the treatment of strangers as if they are not just that, regardless of their background and beliefs. Everyone deserves to be listened to and appreciated. Everyone deserves to feel like they are valued in this world. I think that Egyptian culture, and Arab culture in general, is very accepting and expressive. People always give hugs to one another and kiss each other on the cheek, even if they’ve only been separated for a day. Women walk hand-in-hand, men walk hand-in-hand, and it’s completely normal. People aren’t just seen as acquaintances and strangers, but rather potential friends. This is one part of my heritage that I’ve adopted, as well as my optimistic outlook on people and life. Even if I’m having a bad day, it’s important to keep moving-on. Each day is a new adventure and opportunity.
“Did college shift that mentality at all?”
There have definitely been challenges and struggles along the way, but I knew I wanted to come here when I was accepted for many reasons. Living in Virginia Beach, I had always heard about W&M and been interested in attending. I’ve grown so much as a person since coming here. What I love is that I’m able to talk to people that see eye-to-eye on many issues, as well as people who may not. A few hours ago, I was tabling for World Interfaith Harmony Week and handing out coexist stickers to people, and they were more than willing to have a conversation and listen. We tend to forget that we live in our own bubble here at W&M. We need to work on expanding that bubble of coexistence, open-mindedness, and positivity across Virginia, America, and the world, especially during this crucial time when Trump is vying for the very opposite of that. Everyone is being affected, certainly some more than others, and we need to unite in our resistance. We need to work together to counter anything that has been going against our basic human rights.
“So you’ve been doing stuff for World Interfaith Harmony Week? How exactly did you get involved with that?”
I currently serve as the Undersecretary for Religious Affairs within the Student Assembly’s Diversity Initiative, which means that I am a liaison between religiously-affiliated organizations and other organizations here at W&M. It is my responsibility to facilitate interfaith dialogue and bring together people of different faiths and no faith as well. Along with the other Undersecretaries of Multicultural Affairs, Neurodiversity, International Affairs, LGBTQIA Affairs, and Socioeconomic Affairs, we work together to plan campus-wide programming like I AM W&M Week and to provide a voice for the diverse communities here on campus. As the Undersecretary of Religious Affairs, I wanted to organize an event that promoted positive interfaith relations, especially at a time when the stakes are high and the political climate is very polarized. I did a bit of research and came across the UN’s annual World Interfaith Harmony Week initiative, which happened to take place following the recent inauguration. Right away, I began planning and brainstorming a few events that could take place in celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week, as well as making a green and gold coexist sticker.
I love art and anything that enables me to use my creativity. I designed the stickers in green and gold just for fun, even before we had secured the funds to print them. I thought they had a positive message and that people could stick them on their laptops, water bottles, et cetera. Over the last two months, I’ve been gradually planning the event and getting in contact with people who would be interested in participating, such as the five panelists. I poured my heart and a lot of energy into this event, and am very satisfied with how it turned out. However, I am not satisfied how our country is still in shambles and that many people still do not believe in coexistence and religious pluralism. So many lives have been negatively impacted, some even shattered, by Trump’s executive order [on immigration]. No Ban in my Name [a rally in support of refugees and others affected by the ban here at William & Mary] was amazing and showed the power of the people to stand against Trump and his unjust ban.
“I was there. [Professor Stephen] Sheehi’s speech about rage was particularly powerful.”
Yes, people need to rage and come together now more than ever.
“About the ban itself: what was your first reaction when you heard about it?”
I was disgusted, and shocked, especially at the rather arbitrary list of countries he chose. The ban is both xenophobic and Islamophobic. I’m the daughter of immigrants from Egypt, which wasn’t on the list for Trump’s own selfish reasons. A small part of me was relieved that it wasn’t one of the seven, but at the same time, the other countries on the list have nothing to do with anything bad happening in America. The refugees that Trump is barring from entering have been through the most rigorous vetting process in the world. He is turning away people who have skills and education, been forced out of their homes, and given up everything to come here. It’s really, really disheartening. The ban is affecting everyone and is a testimony to how much work this country has to do. It doesn’t even matter if the ban was for one day; what matters is that Trump did it with an intention to hurt people and families who have been forced to give up everything. We can’t turn our backs on our brothers and sisters. We can’t sit complacently over the next few days and four years while millions, billions, continue to endlessly struggle.
“Have you gotten involved in any way besides World Interfaith Harmony week to resist Trump’s presidency?”
I’m also the Service Chair of the Middle Eastern Student Association, so I have organized a few fundraisers over the last semester that have made a good sum of money to be donated to a local organization that helps refugees resettled prior to the ban. I make it a priority to participate in events put on by our student body as well as the larger Williamsburg community. Attending events like these, calling representatives, donating, and showing solidarity for those who are being targeted is the very least we can do. People are also forgetting that entire nations like Syria and Yemen continue to burn. We need to speak to people who don’t see eye-to-eye with us, like students on this campus who support Trump. They are allowed to have their own opinions, but when their opinions are affecting peoples’ inalienable rights, that’s where the line gets drawn. I wish they could simply see the other side. These rallies and events help us decompress and unite, but there has to be a way for us to reach out to people with opinions different from our own.
“Exactly. I was talking to my girlfriend last night, and she was talking about how these rallies aren’t reaching the people whose opinions are different from ours. Reaching out to those people is difficult.”
It’s difficult, and the question is, how do we even do it? Would they be willing to listen to us? Would they be willing to change their opinion? Sometimes you just can’t change what people have believed their entire lives. At the panel on religious pluralism, one of the professors emphasized the importance of self-care. I’ll be doing a lot of that over the weekend since the celebrations of World Interfaith Harmony Week just ended, but that’s not where it ends. I will continue to promote coexistence and co-resistance and work towards a more inclusive environment.
“Is that what you want to continue to do for your career?”
Right now I’m double majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Business, most likely Marketing. I do know that I don’t want my artistic talents and creativity to go to waste. As far as a career goes, I don’t know yet where I want to work and what I want to do, but I hope that I can combine my love of people, the world, and art in whatever I decide to do. I want to make people smile.
“I didn’t know you were into art. Have you taken art classes here?”
I did take one art class, but most of my art coursework was in middle and high school, so in IB and AP art. Before I came to college, I made sure to take at least one art class every single year since kindergarten as well as participate in a pull-out art program for five years, so art has definitely been something that I’m very passionate about. Last year, I got my art published in two W&M magazines, and I’ve won a few regional, state, and national art competitions in the past. I really like studio art and graphic design, and I want to learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite once I get my hands on it. I had to use Microsoft Word to make this coexist sticker and all of the promotional materials.
I’ve become very proficient in using Microsoft Word and other editing software and websites to manipulate drawings and photographs as free alternatives to Creative Suite. My goal for the future is to learn how to use Photoshop and Illustrator so I can elevate my creative talents to produce better products and make positive impact on our world. You never know who is going to see your sticker, flyer, or Facebook event and inquire about it. A Trump supporter could see it, and it could stir conversation.
“Thinking about the way you can affect people you don’t even know is sometimes optimistic, but that optimism is rooted in something real. So just to give you a classic HONY question, what is your greatest struggle right now?”
I’m struggling to come to terms with what’s happening around me, I’m struggling to choose what path I should take for a career, as well as whether or not I should be doing more than what I am doing right now to help my people. A lot of things, both good and bad, are happening around us, and I feel like I need to be doing more. I am so fortunate to attend W&M, to have clothes on my back and a bed to sleep in, a dining hall where I can just swipe-in for food a few meters from where I live, an education, great professors, and a very loving family. There’s a lot to be thankful for, and I thank God for what I have, but I know that there are a lot of people around the world that don’t have many of these things. I don’t know what more I should be doing. My struggle does not even come close to the struggle of these refugees. My struggles of not having finished an essay due in two hours or that the food I was served wasn’t what I was hoping for don’t even come close to what so many others have to cope with on a daily basis.
“What is something that you want people to ask you about being Muslim or about being from Egypt or about your heritage?”
I want to be asked about my experiences as a second-generation Muslim-American. I consider myself to be a devout Muslim and I really care about my faith. I’m very open to questions and talking about faith with other people. Unfortunately, I have been bullied in the past for being Muslim. It boggles my mind that people see me in a different way and incriminate me for being something that I’m very obviously not. This goes for the very vast majority of Muslims too. I’m beyond thankful that people of different faiths and backgrounds came out to support the Muslim community [at the No Ban in my Name rally].
“Yeah! I saw a dad carrying around his child.”
Yeah! I saw a mother and her baby as well. They could have been at home eating dinner or sleeping, but no, they chose to come here. They chose to listen to the stories [of students and professors and community members].
“Do you have anything else you would like to say the William and Mary community?”
Be kind to one another. Listen. Be open-minded, especially when someone doesn’t look like you or believe in the same thing you do. Everyone has a story. Everyone has value. Everyone deserves to be smiled at and accepted, regardless of their faith, color, origin, orientation, and abilities. Be open, listen, and care. It’s the very least you can do.