For sophomore Haddiyyah Ali, empowerment lies in giving voice.
Ali is double majoring in political science and Africana studies, minoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, one of Undergraduate Student Government’s four commuter senators, tutor at the Writing Center, staff member at the Women’s Center, active member of the African American Cultural Center (AACC), contributor for the Opinion section of The Daily Campus and UConn’s current reigning homecoming queen. She’s involved, to say the least.
As the sixth of seven children, Ali said that UConn’s metropolitan (for a university) size and population contributed to its appeal.
“Part of what I like about UConn is that it’s such a big space and there are so many people to interact with,” Ali said. “There are also places like the AACC and Women’s Center that are home, familiar spaces for me.”
The AACC immediately felt like home to Ali, and she said it was the first place she visited after arriving at UConn.
“It’s always a safe space when we talk about issues that we are facing because you don’t have to explain your experience to people,” Ali said. “You just have say, ‘This happened to me,’ and they ask, ‘How can we help?’ Elsewhere on campus you might have to justify why what happened to you was racist, was sexist, is of any other ism, and that can be emotionally taxing.”
Ali continually works to increase AACC’s visibility on campus. She recently represented the AACC as homecoming queen, but prior to that she was the center’s ex officio representative in USG for the 2014 – 2015 school year. During that time she became heavily involved in issues of diversity and multiculturalism on campus through her work with USG.
Ali helped to conduct last year’s annual caucus for the five cultural centers represented by ex officio members in USG, which took place in the AACC. The meeting, she said, allowed the representatives to discuss their goals, history and student makeup. It was a part of a broader, continuing effort by the centers to collaborate with and educate USG on their role within the student body.
“What the ex officio positions did for USG was it allowed the center to come in and say, ‘This what we’re doing, this is what we’re working on, this is what’s important to the students that we represent.’ For me it’s such as a privilege to work on these committees with USG and administration,” Ali said.
Ali became a voting member of USG with her election to the position of commuter senator. She’s also a member of the academic affairs committee within USG, which she said includes collaborating with advisors and in students on reviewing instructors.
“That way that I see USG is that it’s a really positive way to get involved in politics,” Ali said. “It’s not polarized by parties. Everybody is there for the students’ best interests. So when you get to that space you have the knowledge that everyone there is working towards the same goal of serving students in the best way possible. I think it’s a lot more productive, in some ways, than traditional politics can be.”
Recently Ali has worked with the organization and its president Rachel Conboy to form an ad hoc (a temporary task force) “focused on finding the best ways to represent underrepresented voices on campus.”
Ali said she wished she could be as involved in all five cultural centers as she is in the AACC and Women’s Center.
“(Each center offers) a nuance as for the experiences that marginalized voices have on this campus but what I love the most about the Women’s Center and AACC is they’re both so committed to intersectional experience,” Ali said.
Ali said the centers’ work and the populations they represent naturally overlap.
“We look at intersectionality as a concept and talk about gender, race class, religion, and gender sexuality; all these things can compound one another and create interlocking forms of oppression,” Ali said. “Having the centers collaborate allows them to broaden the spectrum of who’s invited to the table and what kind of issues we’re looking at.”
Even if she’s unable to be immediately involved in each center, Ali said she hopes to represent and help a broad group of people.
“When I’m doing that I’m not just entering these room as Haddiyyah,” she said. “I’m entering it as Haddiyyah who has all these different connections on campus and really trying to bring all those people with me into that space and open up doors for them and give them access to the resources that I’ve had as a part of USG and a UConn student.”
The concept of intersectionality comes into play again through the ways that Ali’s work in different aspects of campus overlap. Her role as an opinion contributor at The Daily Campus, for example, allows her to give voice to issues and understandings voiced in her other work.
“I think what the people at The Daily Campus and the Opinion section is that they allow me to have a platform to discuss issues that are really important and to have a space where I know that people respect your words and respect your opinion,” Ali said.
As a tutor at the W Center, she’s similarly able to use her background knowledge into one-on-one collaboration
“It puts you in contact with people of all different backgrounds, all different areas of study and all different kinds of assignments… I get to be the first person to work with them and brainstorm with them and bounce ideas off each other,” Ali said.
“I always love being able to bring the knowledge from my work in the AACC, the Women’s Center and the Africana Institute into the W Center,” she continued. “I’m not an expert but it helps me to develop questions and to read the paper in different ways. And I just love working with writers in general and watching them get excited about their projects.”
“There is no event that I will ever plan where I will allow people to feel like they can’t speak up or that they are not welcome,” Ali said. “All of the work that I do is committed to allowing people to feel that they have voices, and I would hate for any group on campus to feel like they don’t have a voice there with me, because that is the underlying purpose of everything that I ever do on campus.”
[As of Nov. 20, Haddiyyah Ali announced her candidacy for USG vice president].
Christopher McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.