Campus Celebrity: Mariam Elnozahy, A Senior with a Mission

Name: Mariam Elnozahy

Year: 2016

School: Barnard

Hometown: Austin, Texas!!!

Horoscope: I’m a Taurus through and through, although I did find out a couple months ago that my moon sign is a Leo and now I’m terrified of my own inner spirit.

Best show to watch when you're procrastinating? Louie. I’m also always re-watching old Seinfeld and Friends episodes.

Your article on Barnard’s commencement speaker was extremely well-written and well said. What inspired you to create the petition and write the article?

Ultimately, I was just really upset and frustrated. And if I’ve learned anything from my four years here, it’s that writing is the most direct means to agentive change when it comes to the Barnard/Columbia administration. I wanted to show that it feels like a slap in the face when Barnard invests so much time and money into allowing us to be fruitful thinkers, and then completely disregards that work by not reflecting that same effort in a capstone event as large and paramount as Commencement.

What was your goal in writing the article?

My goal was really simple actually: I wanted to put pressure on Barnard’s administration and President Spar to uphold the values of diversity and inclusion that they preach by allowing Chimamanda Adichie a chance to speak at Barnard’s Commencement. I also wanted to point out the massive dissonance between the way Barnard’s administration views women and feminism and the way inclusive feminisms are being thought of and produced in classrooms and in various pockets of activism around campus.

What did you think of the response that the article garnered? Are you pleased with how people responded?

I was really overwhelmed by the support from Barnard students and faculty, and grateful that I was able to meet with the President only 24 hours after writing an angry status about the Commencement Speaker choice. I’m still waiting for a confirmation on whether or not Adichie will be allowed to address the senior class. When I spoke to President Spar last, she said there were difficulties reaching her, but I’m staying optimistic. 

If you could say something directly to the administration, what would it be?

I think I said everything I wanted to directly to the administration and to President Spar, and was grateful for the opportunity to do that. I expressed my concerns at the way Barnard’s administration is not in touch with campus discussions and the campus climate, and spoke about the ills of the neoliberal university and the way “diversity” and “inclusion” are words that are too often used as convenient means of covering up problems, rather than confronting them head on. The silver lining of all of this is that I was able to express myself to administrators, but in an ideal world, they would come down to the ground to meet us, rather than us having to climb up.

Do you think your article, or Barnard seniors’ objections to the choice of commencement speaker, will change how the administration selects speakers and honorees in the future?

I really hope so. I don’t want Barnard to become a place that only preaches a singular and exclusive mode of being. It is my aspiration that Barnard can be a place that encourages critical thinking and intellectual engagement rather than a place that restricts and constrains conversations (whether that be implicitly or explicitly). I came to Barnard so that I could actively engage with the world around me, both inside and outside of the classroom, and I would love for that sort of active engagement to be a priority of the administration as well. Hopefully, moving forward, the President and the Trustees can work harder to connect to students and student organizations to enact the tenets that Barnard is based on, even when it isn’t convenient. 


**Disclaimer: This article is a personal piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of Her Campus Media.