What is your name, year in school, and area of study? What are your preferred gender pronouns?
My name is Iman Yusuf. I’m a Sophomore. I’m studying Human-Centered Design and Engineering, and she would be my preferred pronoun.
Why did you decide to pursue your major?
Well, first I started with the medical field in mind because that’s what my mom told me was…I don’t know... as an African woman she assumed that was the best route [to take] but she realized that it wasn’t for me…and I never really thought about engineering because as a woman and a person of color, it just didn’t seem like a possibility. I didn’t think I was smart enough for it and I didn’t think I would be into it but actually Layla is the person who introduced me to the major and I just fell in love with the whole idea of user research and usability testing. I like the engineering community and I love being part of it. I think the biggest reason I love my major is because of the community that I am surrounded by, such as NSPE…they make me feel like I can become an engineer as a woman of color.
Do you experience microaggressions from professors and students because of your identity? If so, can you describe an instance? What would you like others to learn from it?
Personally, I can’t say that I’ve never experienced microaggressions but…I try not to [focus] on them. I’m gonna be amazing…[and] at the end of the day I’m gonna work my butt off in each of my classes and try to be the best that I can be; so I don’t really care for their opinions of me or the way they treat me. I remember an instance, I think it was a couple of weeks ago, I was at the University Bookstore trying to buy a notebook. There was a [white] lady at the cash register – she was an older woman – and I remember the girl in front of me was also white. The lady was smiling and making conversation with her like, ‘are you excited for the football game this weekend?’ and ‘are you going?’…she was very vibrant. Then, it’s my turn so I smile and [ask] ‘how are you doing today?’ and [with a changed tone] she says ‘I’m doing well, thanks for asking’...no smile, no vibrant attitude towards me. And that day, right after, I called my mom and [told her] how this lady was so rude. I was actually excited to be the next person in line, and I thought since she was so nice to the girl ahead of me, [she] would be just as nice to me.
Do you think your gender plays a role in how you are treated on campus or in the classroom—positively or negatively?
I would say it does both positively and negatively. [For instance], the first week of my HCDE class I remember being so intimidated because it was [majority] men in my studio section and I was really intimidated to even talk. My professor would also call on me a lot because I was one of the few women in the class, and she was a woman as well. I hated it the first couple of weeks when I wasn’t comfortable…like why is she just focusing on me? But then as time went on, I [realized] that I love it because I’m standing out, and there are so few of me [women] in the class and in the program. So in that sense, it is positive; but at the same time it was very hard to find it comfortable at first.
Do you receive support in those situations? How? If not, then what kind of support do you wish you were offered?
I get support from close friends and sisters…and other people who had the experience and that went through it already – those are the people that I would talk to because if someone doesn’t relate to what you’re going through, then you don’t want to talk to them about it. So my cousins, good friends, and family are the people that I go to because one, I feel comfortable talking about my situations [with them] and two, they can relate.
In what ways does the UW lack an inclusive and diverse community for Black students? What changes would you like to see?
More students of color because [UW] likes to think that it’s a very diverse school but it’s really not. I think it’s like what, 2% [Black students]? The percentage is very low and so we definitely need more Black students.
What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election?
It’s really scary to think that the rest of the country thinks this is okay…it makes you second-guess the people you talk to on a daily basis; they may seem really nice but like, you never know. I thought this was a joke the whole time, like this cannot happen – we’re not going back to what was happening back in the day; we’re not gonna backtrack to that because America is way too progressive. But then to know that this is [our reality] and that he has been elected, we’re seeing the confederate flag displayed [often]…stuff like that scares me. Also, I’m more scared for my Muslim sisters that wear the hijab because, yes, I’m Muslim, but I don’t cover, so I can’t 100% relate to that fear but I’m scared for them…I don’t want anything happening to them just because of their religious affiliations.
If you had the chance to give advice to a young black child, what would you tell them?
Keep grinding and never allow microaggressions or people telling you that you can’t do something get you down, because at the end of the day, you are needed. There aren’t enough of [us] in the educational world, and your diverse perspective is needed in today’s working environment.