ELAB Profile Interview: Sarah Shalan

In the first in our series of profiles of members of Human Rights First’s Emerging Leader Advisor Board, ELAB member Nicole Munson spoke with Sarah Shalan, one of our newest board members and a senior at Hunter College. Sarah, who is dedicated to advocating for the rights of marginalized and vulnerable communities, is involved in human rights organizations on her campus in addition to her efforts with ELAB.

Nicole: Thanks so much for speaking with me today. As we start off our conversation, I’d love to hear why you decided to join the Human Rights First Emerging Leaders Advisory Board? 

Sarah: I’m currently an undergraduate student minoring in human rights. The ELAB is a way for me to learn from different youth advocates. It’s Inspiring and I also wanted to expand the ways I can be most effective in advocating for different human rights issues.

Nicole: You have interned at Malikah, which is a global org that advocates against gender and hate-based violence through self-defense training, healing justice, economic empowerment, and community organizing for safety and power. During your internship, what was your role and do you feel there is a particular program at Mikaliah that is essential to the promotion of human rights for women? What do you think is the most important element to promoting human rights for women?

Sarah: I am a marketing intern with Malikah. I work on their blog, so I write a lot about different issues that come up. For instance, for Black History Month, I wrote about women who were essential to Black resistance. We try to frame it around the mission of Malikah, but also around what’s going on in the world, being able to relate to the communities that are also involved in Malikah. I think the self-defense training is really important because, based on first-point-of-view stories, this is very essential to women protecting themselves against harassment, abuse, and gender-based violence.

Some crucial elements of promoting human rights that I think are important would be legal and policy work. So for instance, I was an intern at Legal Momentum in my freshman year, and through this internship, I saw the importance of having and pushing for rights through the supreme court, especially around gender-based violence, equal pay, and education programs. 

Nicole: I found their program pairings really interesting, and they feel very holistic. I’m also curious to hear what is your life philosophy?  

Sarah: The life philosophy I work around is everything happens for a reason. This is universal for me because any positive aspect of your life, or any hardship that you go through, will…well there’s always some reason why it has to happen to you. Some step in your life that you had to take in order to get somewhere. There’s also an Islamic perspective to it. We say, rarely with hardship comes ease. Even with hardship, you should always have this positive mindset that there’s some reason why this had to happen to you in order for you to be successful or achieve something in the future. 

Nicole: This warrants itself to having a really positive outlook on life, and you can build on the things that feel negative. Who are your strongest influences in life, and what have they taught you?

Sarah: I have three. My two parents are two of the strongest influences in my life. They are immigrants from Egypt and came to the United States in 1990. They came with this idea that they wanted their children to be assimilated into American culture, but they also have a strong value for their Egyptian culture and religion. When they came to the United States, my parents had this fear that we were going to abandon Egyptian culture, so we [kids] were put into private Islamic schools to be more attached to our religion and learn Arabic. Going through school, this connection to our roots never really registered with me until I met my third strongest influence, my professor, Rebecca Qidwai. She taught a class called the Muslim diaspora, where she exposed different theories to me, like Orientalism by Edward Said. This made me more attached to my roots and my culture, wanting to advocate for people in the MENA region as well.

Nicole: I’m wondering if you can also tell me about your work for Palestinian Solidarity Alliance? What do you think is the biggest issue that Palestinians are facing right now, and what would you encourage readers to do about it?

Sarah: Palestine Solidarity Alliance is a group of students on my campus. We host speaker events that allow people to understand more about the Palestinian cause. We brought Professor Rashid Khalidi, who teaches at Columbia University. He’s written a book called the Hundred Years War on Palestine and talks about how Palestine was occupied and how it became an apartheid state. We also invited an activist and writer for The Guardian, his name is Mohammad El Kurd, he’s also really involved in Palestinian activism and he was evicted from his home in Palestine. 

The biggest issues that Palestine faces right now are censorship and defamation. A root cause of the Palestinian problem is ethnic cleansing, and a lot of people don’t want to see Palestinians having a culture; for example, instead of labeling them as Palestinians, they’re labeled as Arab. PSA pairs with different campuses that have organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine, and if there’s any anti-Palestinian rhetoric, we work together to counter these narratives. In terms of the issue of defamation, I think a lot of Palestinian activists who want to speak about Palestine are labeled as being anti-semetic. I would encourage readers to read. There are so many books about Palestine that go into depth about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the history of Palestine (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, 100 Years War on Palestine).

Nicole: I’m also wondering what is your vision for the future?

Sarah: A very equitable society, where everyone is humanized, and everyone is able to have the same resources and human rights. That’s definitely my vision for the future.


Published on April 3, 2023


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