What is your name, year in school, and area of study? What are your preferred gender pronouns?
My name is Fethawit Musye. I am a sophomore and my intended major is Business Administration—I am also planning on minoring in Diversity. My preferred pronouns are she/her.
Why did you decide to pursue your major?
I personally decided to go into the business route because of pre-pipeline high school programs I was involved in. In high school I used to say I was a dental major, I didn’t really know what consisted of becoming a dentist, but I was like “oh it sounds cool” and my parents said it would be good money. Being a child of immigrant parents, they used to really emphasize STEM routes because they knew the level success that you could possibly reach. So I remember my sophomore year of high school my friends told me about a program they were involved in at the UW Foster School of business called the Young Executives of Color (YEOC). It was basically a nine-month college pipeline program where 170 students came to the UW once a month to learn about different business disciplines, we got to sit in on college workshops, they helped us with college applications, we got to meet CEOs of fortune-500 companies, and just more interaction with c-level suite professions. Being minority students, many of which are first generation Americans or first generation college students, we don’t have that access. Having that access when I was sixteen years old was one of the most tremendous things I could do so early on, and it influenced me to go into corporate America.
Do you experience microaggressions from professors and students because of your identity?
That’s a good question. Honestly, I think it happens more frequently than I realize. Honestly, recently I can't really think of any microaggressions, except for the past 2 weeks with the election. I have heard about things happening on campus, Seattle, and across the country as a whole which has made me more attentive to them and post-election I have been more keen to hearing them. But for me personally it could happen like two to three times a week, but I’m just not prone to hearing them.
Can you describe one instance? What would you like others to learn from it?
Ok, I know one instance, it was my senior year of high school, it was a couple days before graduating. Me and one of my high school best friends, she’s Filipino, we’re from Shoreline Washington, we were saying hi to one of our white peers and she said, “It's not fair, Black people can easily get into UW without having the same application as white people, because I knew a white friend who didn’t get in who had the same credits.” And I was like “Girl, if you look at the statistics, there are only 3% of African Americans on this campus.” [My friend and I] just walked away because we just couldn’t believe that she said that. Honestly, I was kind of naive to those things in high school, I was still trying to find my place, especially going to a white school I didn’t always feel safe to be myself and express my opinions and values, but we still talk about that experience to this day. It really just triggered me into realizing this is what people think. She is an eighteen-year-old white girl and so many other people think that way but just don’t say it.
Do you think your gender plays a role in how you are treated on campus or in the classroom—positively or negatively?
Yes just because I hold the title of being “that black girl,” and I know the stereotypes put on Black women. I’ve heard instances of my really good friends who have been in “ethnic” classes that are taught by white professors, and they having to speak for their race, which is common when we go to PWI. Just instances like that, where they don’t want to express their feelings because they don’t want to be that stereotype of “that typical Black girl.” Just being a Black girl that's trying to be in corporate America, and working at Boeing this past summer, a lot of my co-workers were older white men. So, they had the authoritative power, and I had to second guess myself when it came to the way I talk or the way that I come across. I shouldn’t have to do that, but at the end of the day these are the people who have control over me. I think as I am becoming the person that I am, I am realizing that I don’t care what people think, and I don’t care about the stigmas against me because I know that they are not true.
Do you receive support in those situations?
Yeah, I do. Within the Foster School of Business and the Undergraduate Diversity staff, I’m really close with them. And of course, post-election everyone was looking for a place of support, and knowing that I could go to my mentors and advisors there and have a safe space. On the day after the election everyone came to the Office of Minority Affairs because they knew they could be safe and just empty out our emotions and not be judged. I’ve definitely been looking towards the minority services for support.
What kind support do you wish were offered?
I honestly don’t get how UW claims diversity. Like I said before, if you look at the numbers, Black students make up 3% of the UW population, and I don’t know all the numbers of the other ethnic minorities, but they’re just as bad. And it’s sad that Seattle is a pretty diverse city, and I know with gentrification that it’s been getting worse, and people have been moving out of the city and moving out of certain areas with all of these big companies coming through. But come on! If you’re going to claim diversity, if you have all of these resources and all of this support, where are your students? I really do want to see an increase of minority students enrolled. And I’ve heard this statement “oh, they’re not applying.” Yes they are applying. I know so many people who are applying with better grades than me, and better experiences, but they’re not getting in and I don’t get why. I know the UW is planning on expanding, so with that growth I really want to see an increase in minority students as well as an increase in minority faculty. And more people of color who are teaching these African American and ethnic studies classes, because I’m sorry I am not going to be taking a class about African American studies taught by a white woman. That power structure is right there, so no, I’m not doing that. I’ve heard stories of so many faculty of color who are leaving the university. And it’s because they aren't given the opportunity to grow and retain their jobs, so I do want to see an increase of people of color on campus and as faculty.
To follow up, do you think the reason a lot of students of color aren’t getting into the University because they didn’t participate in these high school pipeline projects? Do you think POC need someone advocating for you in order to be seen or valued by the white people who control you getting into the school or your major?
Honestly, yeah, I do. It’s politics at the end of the day. It’s sad but it's true, unless we have a person advocating for you in a certain field or major you aren't going to have that support. It sucks but that's how it is. And politically, this system has to be changed and I know it's going to take time, but the fact that certain majors don't have many people of color because people inside the school aren’t really trying to make them more ethnically diverse.
What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election?
It’s a lot. I think having these labels and identities of the child of Eritrean immigrant parents, I’m Black, I’m a low income student. It's crazy to see how when the newly elected president was getting ready to run, we thought there was no way he was going to win. It’s crazy to see how far he’s gotten and where he is now. I don’t know…it’s a lot. I was sitting in a Black Student Union meeting a few days ago, and I kind of felt privileged when talking to the undocumented students. As a Black woman, I have never felt privileged in my life, but seeing what other marginalized communities are going through because of his presidency is crazy. The fact that we [fear for] our lives and our safety and our friends’, it’s disgusting and I just can't believe we are at this point. The one thing I have taken from this election is that it’s given me the fire to do more in my community, and take part in these conversations. Honestly, other than voting for Hillary Clinton, I didn't really know a lot of the legislation that were trying to be passed on the ballot. Looking back, if I had taken the time to research them, I could have done more with myself. As a citizen of this country I could have taken better advantage of that. But that’s one thing I want to do, as people of color and marginalized communities I feel like sometimes we are less involved in those processes, and I want to do a better job in the future, whether it the local or national politics, knowing how these policies are affecting our communities. I really want to get involved in our local government and see how we can get policy change for our communities.
How do you stay true to yourself when faced with adversities related to your gender or race?
Honestly, it’s the people I'm surrounded with. Without my close family, my friends, my peers, and my mentors, I wouldn't be able to stay sane. This system really tries to bring us down, and the people I surround myself bring me up. Just the other day, my best friend and I were able to have a two hour conversation about Donald Trump and all the policies he is trying to pass in the first one hundred days. For me, it's healthy to talk about it and get our anger out, which made me feel better.
If you had the chance to tell all white people something, what would you say?
I have two quotes that resonate with me “Without struggle, there is no progress.” Our ancestors, they went through so much, Jim Crow, civil rights, and this is the civil rights movement of our generation. We have to know that our ancestors fought, and we can fight and follow in their footsteps.
Another quote that really resonates with me is by John Henrik Clarke, “To be Black and beautiful means nothing in this world unless [we] are Black and powerful.”
If you had the chance to give advice to a young Black child, what would you tell them?
I live by Martin Luther King Jr’s quote: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” You just have to remind yourself that at the end of the day there are so many people behind you looking up to you, so what are you doing to make sure that you are lifting them up. Lift as you climb. I personally, in the last couple years, have tried to incorporate that into my life. My mentors worked so hard to push me, so what can I do to help the others around me and help them grow from mistakes that I’ve made. Follow your passion. At the end of the day, the system is pushing us down but you have to know that you’re Black and beautiful!