Arwa Dubad picked up the phone and dialed her best friend Kayesee Schermerhorn, ‘17 (Law & Policy). Schermerhorn had been encouraging Dubad to run for ASUWT President, the elected head of UW Tacoma’s student government. Dubad had resisted, citing concerns about her upcoming senior year.
“I told her ‘Kayesee, you got your wish,’” said Dubad. “We started working on a campaign the moment we hung up.”
Dubad won the election on a platform of equity and inclusion. “I want to create spaces where students feel welcome and comfortable,” she said. “As an institution, we have a responsibility to provide students with the tools they need to succeed.”
Just a year ago, Dubad would likely have made a different choice. She probably would have called and told her best friend that she wasn’t entering the race. The results of the 2016 elections influenced her decision to run. “I’m a naturalized citizen,” she said. “My status can be revoked at any time and that scares me." Rather than give into her fear, Dubad decided to get involved.
Dubad arrived in the United States on September 19, 2007 at the age of 12. She and her family left their native Somalia for Saudi Arabia where they lived briefly before spending two years in Syria. “My mom is all about education,” said Dubad. “There weren’t a lot of opportunities for women where we were living so we kept going.”
Dubad, her mother and six of her sisters (she now has eight sisters) arrived in Seattle. Dubad’s father followed in 2010. Those early years were challenging. No one in the family spoke English. Neither of Dubad’s parents had more than an elementary school education.
Life slowly started to improve. Dubad’s father found work as a taxi driver in the Tacoma area. Her mother got a job at a childcare facility. Dubad and her sisters enrolled in school and began the process of learning English but that doesn’t mean things were easy. Dubad and her family are practicing Muslims and have faced open hostility because of their faith. “I remember somebody called me a terrorist while I was walking around downtown Seattle,” she said. “I didn’t know what that meant. I had to ask somebody to explain it to me.”
“I remember walking into my sixth grade classroom and hearing a lot of noise. That noise was English and I felt lost. Everything that I knew that was familiar was gone.”
Dubad remained undeterred. She graduated from Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle then began the process of applying to colleges. “I didn’t know where to begin,” she said. Dubad got help from the University of Washington’s DREAM Project, which partners UW students with first-generation and low-income Seattle area high schools.
Dubad started at UW Tacoma in the fall of 2014. At the time, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with her future. During one of her classes, she was assigned to read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The book focuses on people who were wrongfully convicted of a crime. “I made up my mind that I wanted to become a lawyer,” she said. “Part of me feels the need to pay back the community and I feel being a lawyer will help me do that.”
Helping others is a major part of Dubad’s identity. She works weekends helping marginalized youth who are considered high risk for violence or drug use. “I love what I do,” she said. “They’re a great bunch of kids.”
Dubad’s commitment to her family is equally as strong. Dubad and two of her sisters are currently in college (one transferred to UW Tacoma this fall). “We’ve been able to pass along our knowledge and experiences to our younger sisters and that will benefit them in the long run,” she said.
“Everything I've achieved goes back to my parents and their sacrifices for us. It is my dream to get my Juris Doctor and become a lawyer. It is my parents dream to see me live comfortably and pay my bills without asking them for pizza money."
Arwa Dubad has made her decision. When she picked up that phone, she answered the call. “I’ve seen a lot in my life,” she said. “I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen what a good society can look like. I’m hopeful that I can do this work and it’s this hope that keeps me here. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t believe this could change.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org