I see inclusion and equity as the central principles that guide discussions of diversity and equal opportunity as the bedrock of a flourishing and prosperous society. This is especially important concerning higher education in STEM disciplines, where members of America’s ethnic minorities tend to be underrepresented. However, I am pleased that at least some progress is being made. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to be discriminated against in America, however. Still, there has been increasing pushback, resulting in culture wars in which I am invariably on the side of the progressives. As a Middle Eastern community member, I have been on the receiving end of racial hatred on various occasions.
I was living in downtown Minneapolis, MN, when the police murdered George Floyd in May of 2020, and I still remember how traumatized I was when I saw the news plastered across all news channels and social media. Initially, I felt disinclined to participate in any of the protests. I had seen several stores on our street set on fire and was frightened. But a friend who participated in peaceful protests from day 1 convinced me that keeping silent about the issue would make me guilty too. On the third day, at least at first, I hit the street with placards and a resilient spirit. As a brown Middle-Easterner, I saw myself on the side of primarily back people, who, from my experience in the George Floyd Protests, were non-violent protesters. On each occasion I joined, however, a group of young white males always wanted to break windows and destroy things, setting fires, which troubled me. Worst of all, I witnessed how the violence was blamed on Black people. At once discriminated against, yet also privileged in some ways, I felt confused as well as angry throughout this period.
As a woman, I am concerned that the level of participation of women in STEM is low, especially in engineering, and this is true worldwide. I have been privileged over other women I grew up with in the Middle East. I will never forget how hard it was for my sister to get into college in Iran and pursue higher education. She always complained about feeling isolated and excluded in the dominantly male program. Increasingly, I am aware of how gender inequalities affect women’s ability to excel in their careers and the deeply misogynistic and patriarchal character of societies pervasive throughout the Middle East- additional work and fiery trials are imposed upon the ‘weaker sex,’ for her to prove herself sufficiently.
I have been heartened to see the participation of the LGBTQ community in the larger society growing over the past several years, exemplified by Mayor Pete’s strong showing in the last presidential election. I had a friend in college during my undergraduate studies in Iran who was homosexual. All of us were unaware of his sexual orientation until he showed up to a private gathering with his partner. Unfortunately, word got out to the rigid religious administration of the college, and he was expelled without a clear explanation. The situation was devastating not only for him but for everyone else who saw how his life had crumbled so quickly. We protested a few times but were threatened that we would be signing up for the same fate if the protests didn’t stop. No democracy, no dissent, no freedom of speech. My friend immigrated to a college in the US shortly after the incident, but the devastation associated with this kind of blanket discrimination is still etched in my mind.
Myself an ardent supporter of equality for all and inclusivity, I also look forward to seeing women and LGBTQ people more fully represented in STEM. I have been a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University for 18 months. We have frequently received student requests to join our group for research experience or credits. The lab PI authorized me to interview and select the students who joined our group. While focusing on merits, I gave special attention to applicants from underserved groups. During this period, I guided seventeen students from high school to graduate school in performing research: eight women, two African Americans, and one Hispanic. I keenly look forward to decades to come encouraging and mentoring investigators in higher education from underrepresented groups, hopefully as a postdoctoral fellow or faculty member.
Diversity Statement for Graduate School