Fethya Ibrahim


What is your name, year in school, and area of study? What are your preferred gender pronouns?

Fethya Ibrahim, fifth year senior, mechanical engineering; she/her.

Why did you decide to pursue your major?

It was a tough decision, but I decided to pursue my major because I liked studying how systems worked as a whole and what made things move. I liked the challenge that studying dynamics gave me, but I also liked the wide range of skills I could learn by studying mechanical engineering.

Do you experience microaggressions from professors or students because of your identity?

I don't really interact much with my professors, and the ones I have interacted with, I don't think I have ever experienced any microaggressions. As for students, I wouldn't say it was too often, only because the students I interact with on a daily basis are my friends. Sometimes, I do feel like other students don't think I belong, or that I am incapable because of the looks I get when I first come to class.

Can you describe one instance? What would you like others to learn from it?

I remember a time when I was at a study center and I overheard some students struggling on a problem that I had already solved. I went over and tried to help them out because I already knew how to do it, but one of the students seemed skeptical, as if he didn't believe that I could get it right, and that really hurt. I guess what I would like others to learn from this is that you should never doubt someone’s intelligence because of the way they look or speak.

Do you think your gender plays a role in how you are treated on campus or in the classroom—positively or negatively?

I think it’s everything about who I am that plays a role in how I am treated. I am a Black Muslim woman in engineering, so there aren't a lot of people like me at UW. I am different, not what people are used to seeing in Mechanical Engineering, so sometimes the people around me don't know how to react.

Do you receive support in those situations? If not, what kind of support do you wish were offered? 

My support in any situation of feeling insignificant is other Black students on campus, specifically other Black engineers. NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) has been my main source of support since I got into my major.

In what ways does the UW lack diversity or community for Black students? What changes would you like to see?

I think one way UW is lacking in my idea of a diverse community for Black students is the lack of understanding of our cultures and backgrounds. Professors have this idea that they should treat all students the exact same when not all of them are. A lot of Black students come from disadvantaged families and don't have the same vocabulary as everyone else, [which makes] it a lot harder to understand what is going on in the classroom. I would love to see STEM professors who are a lot more open to their students and willing to give extra help to those who really need it.

What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election?

It just brought to light what a lot of us already knew about the general American population: that most middle and upper class Americans don't care about people who aren't like them.

How do you stay true to yourself when faced with adversities related to your gender or race?

Talking to other Black women definitely helps me stay true to myself. No one can truly understand the struggle unless they are living it too.

If you had the chance to tell all white people something, what would you say? 

Learn to be compassionate to the anger and hurt that our people are experiencing. Never say you understand or you know, just listen and cry with us, feel angry with us, feel our pain and help us get through it.

If you had the chance to give advice to a young Black child, what would you tell them?

Never let anyone tell you that you can't or you never will be able to do something. Push through all the negativity and make sure you take as many people as you can with you. When you become successful, don't forget the people who helped you get to where you are, and don't forget those who are where you are today.