Leyla Ibrahim

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

My name is Leyla Ibrahim and I am a graduating senior in the Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) Department. The pronouns I use are she/her.

Why did you decide to pursue your major?

That’s a very good question. Initially, I wasn’t going to major in Engineering. My sister introduced me to HCDE after a summer STEM immersive program she participated in of her freshman year where she learned about it. She knew that I don’t like how a lot of things are created so I usually critique them and so she suggested I look into it. I’m like, ‘It could have been easier. Why couldn’t it have been built like this? Like the door knob for example, why is it built so low? Why couldn’t it have been built higher? Did they not think about the person that’s going to be using the door?  So I thought, ‘Hey why not be the person who actually analyzes these objects and do usability testing. At the time I didn’t know what usability testing was, but I thought, ‘Hey why don’t I just test it? and ask someone to do it.' So I guess that’s what got me to major in HCDE. It was through seeing people and myself struggle. 

Do you experience microaggressions from professors or students because of your identity? If, so can you describe an instance? What would you like others to learn from it?

Anywhere in general? Ok let me tell you homegirl, so the funny thing is I never knew it was microaggressions until someone told me it was. Can you believe that? I was in shock, because I was sitting with a friend and he was telling me, 'Oh we always go through microaggressions,' and then he gave me an example, and I remembered back when I was applying for a job, and the person who was interviewing me said, ‘Oh you know English very well.’ And I was like, ‘Um, yeah? Am I not supposed to?’ I was really confused as to why he said that. At that moment I realized that I was wearing a scarf, and I was colored. And I realized, ‘Ohhh, that’s why he asked that.’

I guess it’s not really microaggression, but you realize that you’re different because of the way people stare at you. Some students that I encounter tend to talk slower when they’re with me. And I’m like, ‘Yo homie, I’m good, I can understand every single word you’re saying.’ So that’s another thing.

I’d say don’t jump to conclusions. Ask questions. Just because you see someone who looks different doesn’t mean that they’re a foreigner. I was born and raised here, *in mock redneck accent,* “I’m ‘merican, right?!” [chuckles]

I guess that’s one thing, and think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Would you want to be asked that same question? Would he be okay with answering a question if someone said, ‘Oh you speak english very well.’

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

I can’t think of any actually. I wasn’t ever put in a position where because of my gender I was treated differently, or felt any effect differently. Because I honestly don’t know what the reason is. Because I have three identities. I can’t depict if I’m treated a certain way because I’m a woman, black, or a Muslim.

Do you receive support in those situations? What kind of support do you wish were offered? 

I have really amazing friends. They are like my support group. I think being able to be involved in NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers], has helped me see who I truly really am. And being able to, if I want to have a lady talk, I have girls too that are in Engineering. Personally, I make sure I reach out to people. So yeah that’s how I feel like my support. I go back and I’m like, ‘Hey so this happened, am I crazy? Or…is this really ok?’ So I feel like going back and talking to someone who has similar experiences as me really helps.

In what ways do you think the UW lacks diversity or community for Black students? What changes would you like to see?

Professors. They are not educated at all, with anything in general. I mean they’re educated with their specific major, but anything outside, only one professor in my major actually came, you know how we had the black lives matter thing? She came out, and she was supporting that. But like, I feel like the professors, some of the guy professors aren’t really educated towards women, and about how we need more women in the workforce. It’s just the professors need to be educated about that, and need to have that diversity class or whatever it is so they can learn. I think that would help UW a lot if you’re able to teach the professors how to accommodate towards others, and be aware.

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

So the day after, everyone was messed up. I was walking and I was dead, you know? I was walking, met another girl as I was walking, and she looked dead too. We just ran and hugged each other. Did you know the person? Yeah, yeah I know the person but her face was dead, and we just ran and hugged each other. I don’t usually hug her, but we just hugged, you know. And she was like, ‘I’m so sad’, and I was like, ‘I know’. We didn’t even have to say anything. And you can feel it, like the atmosphere. I was able to talk to someone about it, because I guess I felt for the undocumented, the minority, just everyone, because the election felt like you were able to…[it] reestablished that you can be racist about all that stuff, and outwardly blatant about  things that you shouldn’t be, and then get a higher, director position. 

And this helped me reflect back to myself. Because once I was in Portland, I actually started crying that day…I was on the bus and some guy just yelled out, ‘Oh my gosh, she has a bomb, she has a bomb.’ And so this just reminded me, because I’ve never been encountered in this way and it only started happening after Trump outwardly made it ok to say whatever the hell you want. And I just started breaking down because the day after the election I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you know it’s gonna increase.’ 

And so I guess seeing this many individuals in this many red states just made me feel like, 'Is this really America? Is this what we’re made out of? Even in Washington Yeah, I know. In Washington-freaking-state!

We fall under, women, race, immigrants, you know? I’m like, 'Damn, everyone is against us, the whole world is against us,' type of thing. 

I loved how the ECC had that thing [Post-Election Town Hall Meeting, aimed to create a safe space for minorities on campus]. I was staying there, I had all the comfort food, [laughs] it was beautiful that we were able to have that one place and it was filled, I guess. It was beautiful at the end of the day we got to unite. But I feel like as a nation, we shouldn’t depend on that, I mean he’s the president, but we’re the people. We can do whatever the hell we want, and we need to show that love is better, because we’re here and we’re human.

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

I go back and I think about what makes me me. I think to myself, 'You know what Leyla. You are a woman. You are black. And you’re a Muslim. None of that is gonna change.' I keep telling myself, 'Why should I change to accommodate?' Like everyone is different, everyone has their own identity, and this is what makes everything better. So I keep telling myself that, 'You’re not alone,' because  I know there are other people, I made sure of building my connections, I think that network and the support group really helps me a lot. And keep talking to myself, going back to my parents, that helps a lot. But, yeah going through adversity that’s basically what I do. I keep telling myself that I’m diverse, and everyone is diverse too. People want to be me, that’s what I say. ‘Leyla, they wanna be you.’ *laughs*

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

Immerse yourself. Get uncomfortable. Get really uncomfortable and immerse yourself in a different culture. That’s what I had to do when I learned Yemeni culture, I thought, ‘You know what Leyla, just go in there and just observe and make so many mistakes, as much as you want.' You learn from it. And then you learn, like oh my gosh, that’s another world that I never knew about, and you learn how to be more compassionate. And I feel like if you don’t immerse yourself and get uncomfortable, and you just stick into your bubble, of, ‘oh my gosh this world is like this, you’re not gonna get anywhere, you’re not gonna be able to learn anybody else’s culture. Gender. You know how they have women only frickin' WiSE? [Women in Science & Engineering] Go sit in there. They can’t kick anybody out. NSBE? [National Society of Black Engineers] Go get your ass there, you know? No one’s gonna kick you out, get uncomfortable. And then you’ll be able to understand.

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

To the girl, I’d say you’re a hot commodity. You’re a woman, and you are colored. And I would wanna tell her…don’t let anybody say you can’t. I know it’s very cliché, but that’s the one thing that always gets women behind, especially as black women we’re taught to care for the guy, before we care for ourselves. And I wanna let her know that she’s special and she needs to care for herself, and she needs to reach for whatever the heck she’s thinking. If she wants to be a frickin' ballerina, she will be a damn ballerina. If she wants to be a scientist, then she will be a scientist. I want her to reevaluate herself and say, I can’t do it because I don’t like it, not because someone else told her.

For the guy, I would say stick to school. You want money? You want girls? Go to school. Because at the end of the day once they go to school I feel like guys learn responsibility. I don't know if it’s because I come from an immigrant household, they learn it’s not all about money, it’s also learning about solving tasks, solving problems, think analytically. For a boy he should look at his counter, the woman, as their ally. You guys are together, you know? Don’t look at her because she’s lower than you, and defend the girl to. I tell them defend any girl, they need to.