Amer Ahmed pushes for social justice to benefit students

Jacob WaringNews Editor

The first of three candidates for Southern’s new Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Amer Ahmed, visited the campus on Monday, March 9.

“I’ve got the opportunity to see what this work looks like in a lot of different areas,” said Ahmed, “A lot of different environments with maybe a lot of confidence in knowing that I could step into an institutional environment and learn what makes that place.”

Students were handed Ahmed’s resume which detailed his experience in various administrative roles.

In his opening remarks, he said it was “actually unusual” for a campus to come out and say that they are committed to social justice. Social justice was an aspect he said attracted him towards applying for the position.

He also said that most faculty are not trained to teach due to their background as experts or researchers.

“One of the things that needs to be worked on almost everywhere is to work with faculty, to teach and to teach them how to teach in a way that is more inclusive,” he said.

Ahmed said that he has been fortunate enough to have found ways to integrate students into the process of creating one campus.

“Southern seems like an institution that actually is concerned about students and wants to try to create an [inclusive] environment,” he said.

Throughout Ahmed’s interview process, he said his main question was how Southern can operationalize social justice for the benefit of the students.

The way to operationalize social justice, Ahmed said, was to create kind of a synergistic process of learning and development that everybody is working towards. One of the challenges, according to Ahmed, is around diversity, equity and inclusion, which is especially related to social justice he said is increasingly being framed as “we get it or don’t get it.”

“We all make mistakes. We all have work to do,” said Ahmed. ”We have to be able to commit to creating community and in a community, we harm each other. We make mistakes. We upset one another. The question is: how do we create an environment in which we’re willing to take the risks involved with engaging and learning one another?”

His hope and desire, Ahmed said, if he was selected for the position is for the campus to aspire to be a social justice institute.

Ahmed also said  he understands that due to everyone having different experiences and backgrounds,  it would be a challenge for anyone to relate to everyone on a campus. He used an analogy involving headwinds and tailwinds.

He said if you have a tailwind, you get to where you want to go faster than you expected but often you don’t even notice when you have a headwind. Recognizing headwind, said Ahmed, means working from a place of understanding and learning from others who have tailwinds in areas that you may lack.

“For myself, as a male identified individual [who is] gender straight, able bodied, I have a lot of tailwinds, but I also have headwinds around race and religion,” said Ahmed.

Student Government Representative at Large Brandon Lovene said that when it comes to student leadership positions on campus, he feels there is a trend lately of students being chosen based on their superficial looks or for  their opinion on diversity.

“How could you shift the tide,” said Lovene, “[for] students who are within the margins feel as though that they could perceive student leadership without having to feel like they’re just being superficially judged based on their appearance and their background?”
Approximately 30 students attended the forum which was a bigger number than past forums held for other positions this semester.

Ultimately, Ahmed characterized himself as a bridge builder and a person that is willing to be uncomfortable to try to bring different people to the table.

Student Government Representative at Large Asma Rahimyar, a junior who attended the forum, said there was a few reasons for why there was more student involvement in this forum, including that this is a new role at Southern.

“Whoever we hired for this position, what they’ll ultimately do, has a very personal impact on students,” said Rahimyar, “I think that people feel very strongly, personally speaking, about the inequities that they encounter and the inequities that their friends encounter on this campus.”

What Rahimyar appreciated the most about Ahmed, she said, was that he had a personal conception of what social justice means to him.

This resonated with Rahimyar, she said, because no matter how much experience a person can list on their résumé, if they don’t have that personal sense of why this matters, then she thinks that person could not do Southern students justice.

“I think that he has a very personal conception of what social justice means, said Rahimyar. “A very personal conception of the importance of ensuring equity and inclusion on campus.”

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