What is your name, grade, and area of study? What are your preferred gender pronouns?
My name is Mohamed Sheikh. I’m a senior at the University of Washington studying electrical engineering. I use he/him pronouns.
Why did you decide to pursue your major?
I’m Somali. And one of my goals growing up was to better the electricity system out there. There was a time when I went to Kenya in the summer of 2009 with my grandmother, and we witnessed a lot of electricity shortages down there so I made a promise to my younger self that I will come back and help out.
Do you experience microaggressions from professors and students because of your identity? If so, can you describe an instance and what you would like others to learn from it?
I’m probably oblivious to a lot of microaggressions. I don’t recall experiencing any, however I do know they exist and I know some of my peers that suffer from it.
Do you think your gender plays a role in how you are treated (on campus/in classrooms)- positively or negatively?
Absolutely. Us males have a privilege and there's certain things that I can do and not be ostracized or shamed for it.
Do you receive support in those situations? What kind of support do you wish were offered?
Every minority group is a support system. I was fortunate to be brought up in NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers], and that really shaped what I thought of the UW Campus. If it wasn’t for NSBE I probably could say the story would have been different. I definitely think that black people need a place where they can feel that culture connection. A place where there are people you can relate with, share your struggles with.
In what ways do you think the UW lacks diversity or community for Black students? What changes would you like to see?
I don’t see a lot of people of color in engineering. I think the STARS program was a great start [State Academic RedShirt program which targets underrepresented students and provides resources for them to succeed in engineering at UW]. I think making the STARS program bigger, reaching out to more high school kids in the Seattle area. We have to build seeds of college into the younger minds. I think it starts at a very early age. Outreach needs to be done with that. They could create a special task force or group for that [task].
What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election?
It was interesting seeing everything unfold. In the beginning [Donald Trump’s campaign] was a joke, especially when he made outrageous claims about Mexicans, Muslims. I thought his campaign would end there. It was kind of an awakening to see there were a lot of people that supported that kind of rhetoric, and hate towards a lot of minorities. It was an awakening—we weren’t as progressive of a nation as we thought we were. You could also say that a lot of people were just pissed off, of the current situation in terms of the political establishment and what not. It was eye-opening to me, especially when he got elected; the climate was very very dense. It’s kind of scary, especially for my sisters and my mother. So, it took quite a toll on my family and the minority groups. I’ve never seen the morale of the people so down the next day. That was awakening- shows us that we’re [America’s] not who we thought we were. It shows the hypocrisy, how we try to portray ourselves [as Americans] and who we elected.
How do you stay true to yourself when faced with adversities related to your gender or race?
I try to be authentic. I try to create my own privilege. I feel like you have to make a deal with the system, and try to create your own privilege. It wouldn’t serve me any good, if I were to believe what other people thought of me. It would not help me in any way, so I really try to ignore what other people are saying or thinking of me. It doesn’t even cross my mind. Whenever I’m in a meeting, I assault them with my blackness, I try to make my presence known. I’m very confident in who I am. I really don’t care what other people think.
If you had the chance to tell all white people something, what would you say?
Use your privilege to combat prejudice. We all have privileges that we don’t know of. Especially if you’re a majority in the country you can be an ally with the minority community, you can advocate for them, spread awareness.
If you had the chance to give advice to a young black child, what would you tell them?
We are powered by God’s privilege. The mind is the most powerful tool. In light of everything that’s happening around, in light of the things that can depress us and put us down it’s very important to train your mind to think positively. It won’t help you to think otherwise. We have to try to create your own privilege. Capitalize on whatever opportunities that come your way. Work hard and empower yourself, that way you can empower your community. It starts by empowering yourself. Make yourself an asset so that way you can empower your community.