Bethlehem Seifu '16

Name: Bethlehem Seifu

Year: 2016

Hometown: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Majors: Biological Physics

Minor: Physics and Economics

Her Campus: What attracted you to Brandeis?

Bethlehem Seifu Belaineh: I was studying in South Africa when I met the Admission Officer to Brandeis. I had actually never heard of the school, so when she said she was from Brandeis, I thought she meant the drink “Brandy.” I thought it was so weird, and I nicknamed it Bran-Diddy. Then I Googled it, and I was like “Oh, this is a legit, top-ranked university.” I remember writing my application very close to the deadline and thinking that I would just try my luck. I guess it was a really good fit because I was selected to be a Wien Scholar. And then the whole mission of social justice and diversity and all that really attracted me because my whole essay to Brandeis was about fighting global poverty in my home country. So it was a good match in the sense that I came to a place that really valued a lot of that, but coming here I realized there’s a lot to be done.

HC: What activities are you involved in on campus?

BSB: I’m the Racial Minority Senator and the Chair of Social Justice and Diversity in the Brandeis Student Union, I’m on the ‘Deis Impact’ Steering Committee and the Provost Diversity Committee, and I’m the UDR for Biological Physics. I’m also the founder of the Black Brandeis Facebook and Instagram page and I have my own photography page, Q.Seble Photography.  Black Brandeis is created to celebrate/acknowledge/affirm Black presence, narratives, and #BlackExcellance at Brandeis through photography/film, art, and artivism. I was involved in Ford Hall 2015, mainly documenting and digitally archiving what was happening, and keeping the Brandeis community and the general public informed. During my time here, I strived to support Black initiatives with my different roles on campus whether it’s in theater/spoken word/ safe healing spaces, art, or activism work. I’m a proud member of BASO 
(Brandeis African Student Organization) and BBSO (Brandeis Black Student Organization) as well as WOCA (Women of Color Alliance).

HC: What has been your proudest Brandeis moment so far?

BSB: My experience at Brandeis has been scarred with isolation. Currently, I’m going to be the only (and maybe first?) Black woman to graduate from my major. It’s both thrilling and isolating. So in relation to that, I’m excited to be starting an NGO in Addis Ababa called Ethio-STEM. I got the Sorenson Fellowship last semester to initiate it, so I’m proud to use my experiences in the sciences to encourage women of color—specifically Black women to continue pursuing these fields. As a Black woman, thriving and surviving in a predominantly white university (PWI) comes with a slew of racial, class, and gender discriminations and barriers.  So despite these accomplishments that make me proud, I am also demotivated at times from bearing so much weight in all the spaces I enter.  

HC: What advice do you have for incoming first years?

BSB: Soak it up. Don’t wait for anybody to give you permission to be yourself. I’ve struggled a lot with being authentic because there’s a huge difference between doing things that are acceptable and being your authentic true self. A lot of times when you strive to be acceptable, you lose your authenticity, and you lose the things that make you, you. I found at Brandeis that my experiences were not mirrored back to me by a lot of people because I was a woman, because I was an immigrant, because I was Black, and because I was in the sciences. Still to this day I don’t have Black colleagues in my department with me, so that’s why I make effort to take classes in sociology and African and Afro-American studies (AAAS) to get the language to describe my experiences, and be in community with my classmates.  I had to do things at Brandeis I never had to do before, but I only did them because I resisted the idea that I had to be acceptable. So my advice to Black girls here is to get involved and go to events and meet people. Support Black-making/ creation and Black art. What a blessing it was to be present in For Colored Girls and The Death of the Last Black Man last year and Ruined and The Wiz this year, my advice is to soak it up because there’s so much Black talent here.

HC: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

BSB: I see myself unapologetically living in my full truth. I see myself wearing my own clothing, creating a brand, and making people believe in their own potential. I see myself fully immersed in the gifts and talents that I’m going to cultivate within myself and I want to show other people that they also have that. And hopefully I’ll also have a child or children, but being married is not my priority. Don’t get me wrong, if I find a partner then that’s great, but I want to be a mother. The gift of mothering is very important to me. I want to be a creator and influence people in a positive, authentic light. I was want to rediscover my Blackness in its full-complex-diversity, while basking in the truth of being Black and divine. I want to be surrounded by people who have that energy around them. I don’t know what it is I’m going to do yet, but whatever it is I want to do it wholeheartedly. Success is always put in these weird quantifications, but success doesn’t mean everyone knows your name—it means you’re living your authentic, truthful self. I’m just going to continue to be myself and grow. And hopefully I’ll go back to my mother continent Africa and make some magic happen there. I want to travel Africa as a person who practices African feminisms, because my feminism is shaped by the intersections of all the identities that shaped me and will continue to shape me. And I hope to write a book, or a couple of them.

Quick Facts:

Secret Talent: I can hold my breath underwater for a really long time. I wanted to be a swimmer but that didn’t really work out.

Favorite Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness  

Favorite Quote(s): “only the BLACK WOMAN can say when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.” - Anna Julia Cooper

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” - Audrey Lorde

Favorite Spot on Campus: Around the Bethlehem Chapel. 

Favorite Song of the Moment: “Formation.” Duh.

Prized Possession: The space between my hurt, pain and soul, the edifices of my heart.