What is your name, year in school, and area of study? What are your preferred gender pronouns?
My name is Ruweida Ahmed. I am a senior and I’m double-majoring in Neurobiology and Public Health; she[/her].
Why did you decide to pursue your major?
Because I’ve always been interested in the brain from a very young age. One of the reasons I wanted to come to this school is because of the Neurobiology programs offered here. My passion has always been studying the nervous system; I always found it fascinating. Then just spending four years learning about it, it was a win-win. Also Public Health…I want to go into the medical field so learning about or having a public health framework of looking into medicine and into your patients is something that’s very valuable for me so that I know the background of my patients and what capacities and limitations they might have. Learning Public Health teaches you the social determinants of health and sometimes patients…have exterior things that they are not able to control, for example their social and economic status and having access to quality food and clean water… [Through Public Health] I’m able to really understand my patients by [recognizing] what things are limiting them from having the best help they can [get]…so I like to look into medicine from a public health framework.
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?
So far, not so much from my professors…actually, let me think…I feel like sometimes you’re so used to these microaggressions that you don’t think they’re microaggressions anymore, but I think for students, when they say ‘wow, you’re very smart’… We are in the same program so, am I not supposed to [be]?... They think it’s a compliment but…I don’t go up to people and say ‘oh my gosh you’re really smart.’ If you have a smart idea I would be like, ‘oh that’s a smart idea,’ but I’m not gonna be like, ‘oh my gosh you’re so smart,’ because I feel like that’s an insult. And I think there are some advisors that are very interesting. I was pretty surprised that I had really good encounters with my biology advisors because of the uptightness of the program but for public health, when I was applying I included in my essay that I wanted to double major …I got my acceptance for neuro and then I got Public Health’s later… [Still] they wanted to have a meeting with me and were discouraging me like ‘we haven’t seen students that were able to handle these two majors’…but I explicitly made sure that I was able to handle those two majors through my schedule and I also included it in my essay so they already knew I was double majoring. [Furthermore], one of the public health advisors [told me] I should get a BA, but why would I get a BA…the only difference between a BS and a BA are the science classes and I have already taken the science classes and everything else is exactly the same. There is no problem with a BA but I specifically applied for a BS and so it was actually one of the few times that I had people explicitly say ‘I don’t think you’re able to handle it,’…and I’m like ‘okay, I’ll see you at the graduation with my two majors’…like don’t worry, I will figure out what I have to do. I’m the one that’s taking those classes and putting the strain on me not you, so…
If you do experience microaggressions and people say that you’re not capable of doing it don’t listen to them. First of all, they probably can’t do it so they’re bitter that you can do it. I’m really good at not listening to people when they’re debbie-downing but surround yourself with positive people who always tell you that you are capable of doing anything and everything. [Also] check those people, I think, you know, sometimes it’s sad to choose your own battles but it mentally helps you…stand up for yourself and say I am capable of doing it, thank you for your unsolicited advice and have a nice day…look at where you came from and how far you’ve gone – that helps me a lot…by reminding myself how far I came I am able to not let the microaggressions have a huge effect on me.
Do you think your gender plays a role in how you are treated on campus or in the classroom—positively or negatively?
I think being a black Muslim female play a role because one, [some] people think that intelligence is limited to one race, but no, intelligence is not a specific gene that is only found in the white race even though a lot of our institutions are not diverse but… school wise I think it’s mostly my race, a little bit my religion. I actually had a teacher who was like, ‘you’re very lucky to pursue an education’ – so just because I wear a hijab my parents ‘allowed’ me to get an education?... I think race plays [a role] but not so much being a woman. But I think it’s the combination of all three [race, religion, and gender] …and I am all three of them which I am really happy about and feel that they made me who I am today. [Also] you know, the fact that I push myself to do well and be the best student I can be; I’m able to change those stereotypes in other people’s heads and to quote-on-quote ‘surprise’ them.
Do you receive support in those situations? If not, what kind of support do you wish were offered?
I am very lucky to have support, family-support, friend-support, teacher-support sometimes too, so like I think I’m fortunate enough to have that… Also support within yourself is very important, and making sure…you know sometimes when you don’t do well in one class or you don’t do well on an exam you’re like ugh, but then you don’t realize that the average was that average so a lot of people didn’t do well…You always think ‘oh gosh’ so I always have to check myself like, Ruweida no, stop, you are smart.
In what ways does the UW lack diversity or community for Black students? What changes would you like to see?
First of all, they need to fix up the IC [Instructional Center], first and foremost. I’m pretty sure a lot of people of color use the IC, especially in the STEM fields and the IC is the best resource because it significantly [helps] change your grade, makes you a competitive candidate, helps you get into the majors you want, and get good grades on those hard classes, so they really need to fix the IC. It needs to look like the ECC [Ethnic Cultural Center]… They really need to do that. The IC is really small for the amount of students that go there. The tutors are amazing…very hard working tutors. I feel like [the IC has been] a foundation of my education and in getting the grades that made me a competitive student because of the resources they had… [the tutors] are smarter than a lot of the professors here and I think they really need to invest in the IC…[UW also] needs to have more professors. I’m 100 percent sure there are professors in the STEM field that are you know, black or Hispanic…that are really qualified. I’m really tired of seeing old white men that are teaching my courses…I would like to see people that look like me…they need a diverse faculty.
What are your thoughts on this year’s presidential election?
Let’s be real here, these people were alive, they were there, they were in every place you can imagine…America was always like this. Now the white world is realizing that America is racist because they had this passive-aggressive approach, like ‘oh we have a black president’…like yeah, and? The mass incarceration of black men, the health disparities that are facing the African American communities, like why do African American women have higher maternal mortality rates than white women? Look at the education system, we don’t have segregation but if you look at the school systems the failing schools are predominately minority students…do they not see how the war on drugs disproportionately affects African Americans? And now we have legalized marijuana…which benefit the white men… a lot of black men are in jail for the possession of marijuana…racism is alive and well. The map of [this election’s] Electoral College [votes] is the map of the United States…and it wasn’t about uneducated men, no, it was educated white women and educated white men. There was this wave of, you know, white people feeling that their country is changing and that feel their status in this country is falling – it’s never gonna fall because the system was set up for them. It’s funny [who] voted for him [Donald Trump] – the white people or the 8% of black people …you know, he’s not gonna bring jobs back for them… [Yet they still] would rather have [their] livelihood decrease more just so [their] whiteness can be intact.
How do you stay true to yourself when faced with adversities related to your gender or race?
One thing I believe in [is]…pleasing my Lord. I ask Him to give me the opportunity, no one else can give me opportunities without Him allowing that to happen. So I guess I feel like, if I stay true to my religion that’s how I stay true to myself. I remind myself that, you know, I’m not gonna change myself just to make people happy.
If you had the chance to tell all white people something, what would you say?
Racism exists, and minorities can’t be racist—they can be prejudice but they can’t be racist.
If you had the chance to give advice to a young Black child, what would you tell them?
Don’t let the outlook of people stop you from pursuing your dreams. Stay true to yourself and know that we need you. We need you to be educated and to be at the table where changes are being made…and to have a voice at that table. We need to be the change that we want to see and that starts off with getting the education and having the authority and power to make changes to benefit the community, that’s very important. Don’t stop at being a teacher, become a superintendent, become the person that will deal with the budget that’s coming into your school or the budget that’s coming into your state by becoming a legislator. Don’t just be a doctor, be the director of the hospital so that you have the authority to bring qualified people of color into that hospital, because that’s how you can really make a change.