CalSERVE presidential candidate Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris seeks to increase diversity awareness on campus

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Editor’s note: This is one installment in a four-part series on this year’s candidates for ASUC president. Read about the other candidates here.

When campaigning gets stressful, Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris can be found burning sage on Sproul Plaza.

AbdulQadir-Morris, a current ASUC senator and CalSERVE’s presidential candidate for the 2017 ASUC elections, said she believes in the power of energy and of the people. If elected, she will focus on cross-cultural advocacy and listening to students from all walks of life.

AbdulQadir-Morris grew up in the neighborhood of Inglewood, California, a place that she was often told is unsafe or violent. AbdulQadir-Morris said that growing up, she never saw the area as violent, adding that the violence is often sensationalized.

“I’m really proud of where I came (from),” AbdulQadir-Morris said. “Initially, when I was in high school, I really wanted to get out of the hood. … I always desired more for myself and I think that’s because I’ve always been intellectually curious.”

She noted that she has always loved reading, considering it an “escape” to another world. Her love for reading led her to pursue higher education, AbdulQadir-Morris said.

The education system in Inglewood was not very strong, according to AbdulQadir-Morris. City politicians rarely invested in education, she said, and her high school was ranked low in southern California — but AbdulQadir-Morris’ teachers were very supportive.

“They’re very inspiring educators,” AbdulQadir-Morris said. “Often, teachers in the city … don’t believe in the potential of students and they’re fine with people ending up how they will, but it’s a very creative, great city.”

AbdulQadir-Morris identifies as a woman of color, Afro-Palestinian, queer and low-income, and she has mental health issues and an eating disorder. Many of these identities come with stigmas, which AbdulQadir-Morris said she wants to help dismantle, adding that her mental health issues do not prevent her from “striving to be better.”

From representing both the Berkeley Student Cooperative and the Black community in the ASUC Senate, AbdulQadir-Morris said she knows the importance of having a presence in the communities she represents — and in the case of ASUC president, having a presence in all communities.

“I can’t go to all the events and be a student at the same time, but (I’m) still finding a way,” AbdulQadir-Morris said. “I want to be able to be invited to board meetings of the umbrella organizations so I can hear about themselves rather than someone else telling me.”

As a senator, AbdulQadir-Morris has been working to reestablish the Diversity Affairs Committee, which is responsible for increasing dialogue about campus climate, diversity and multiculturalism. Additionally, she is the chair of the Governance and Internal Affairs Committee, and she is involved with interviewing the Elections Council and pushing for the creation of the Voluntary Wellness Honor Pact, which is active in this election season. The pact establishes guidelines and rules, all of which are voluntary, that support candidates’ mental health during the elections.

Student Action Senator Miranda Hernandez, a friend of AbdulQadir-Morris, first met AbdulQadir-Morris during the last election season while campaigning on Sproul and introducing herself to other senate candidates. Hernandez said AbdulQadir-Morris had been very receptive and kind to her.

“She’s one of the most authentic people I know, and that’s why I think the student body needs her,” Hernandez said.

Other friends of AbdulQadir-Morris called her “genuine” and said she “will get the job done.”

Jessica Akoju, a board member of the Nigerian Student Association and another friend of AbdulQadir-Morris, said if AbdulQadir-Morris promises that she will accomplish something, “she’s going to do it twice over.”

AbdulQadir-Morris’ opponent, Student Action presidential candidate André Luu, said it is “critical” to him that an executive officer of the ASUC is not biased toward any communities.

“I’ve worked with communities from all over campus and, as ASUC president, it’s so important that you don’t work solely with one or two communities on campus … being equally accessible … to all of campus, regardless of your personal stake,” Luu said.

While AbdulQadir-Morris has spearheaded many initiatives as a senator, parts of her endeavors would extend into the next year, such as hosting a Black Welcome Week for incoming students of color and creating a clinic for people of color with alternative healing methods, such as aromatherapy.

“Everyone reminded me of the inspiration that I give,” AbdulQadir-Morris said. “They convinced me to see the strength in myself and the power that I could have in running the ASUC, and the change that I could bring to the ASUC next year.”

Sakura Cannestra is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.