As part of the Division of Student Affairs’ initiative for Diversity and Inclusion, we at I Am Rutgers have started the #RUIDProject to highlight the many diverse identities, experiences, and reflections of the Rutgers student body. Students featured in this project share how they choose to identify themselves and how Rutgers either helps them express their identity or has helped shape their identity. If you would like to be featured in this project, share a picture of yourself and how you choose to identify using the hashtag #RUIDProject on Instagram or contact us via email.
“What are you?” This is a question I hear every other day. People also ask me if my first name, Barakah, has an association with our former president, Barack Obama. Which, to be clear, no, it does not. Barakah means blessing in Arabic. My ethnicity and my name are not the only factors about myself that people have questions about. I have been asked why I am an art major because people believe that the majority of artists tend to become homeless. I have been harassed about 9/11 because I am a proud Muslim. I have been asked why I don’t straighten my hair more often because I am expected as a woman in this society to conform to beauty standards. I have been asked so many questions about my identity throughout my life, which in turn inspires me to educate others not only about aspects of my identity, but also on issues I strongly believe in. I am a person of many labels. Muslim. Woman. Mixed-Race. First-Generation. Indigenous. Survivor. Artist. Activist. Womanist. Black. South Asian. Other. Having as many societal labels as I do is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing that I am such a multidimensional person, and yet, I have always felt alienated. Growing up, my existence would sometimes make people uncomfortable. Whether that was because of how I looked, or who my parents are, or the fact that I have survived a list of traumas. I see myself as a strong individual, so I tried to brush off others’ ignorance. But
deep down, the ignorance of these people made me question parts of myself. I would wonder how I could fit in today’s society, where the “ideal” American conforms to Eurocentric beauty standards, comes from a middle-class background, comes from a stable family… and the list goes on. I do not fit into any of these boxes. I am a mixed-race black and brown woman, I come from a lower-class background, and I come from a dysfunctional family. But I am not angry. Coming to Rutgers, my outlook on the life I live and the labels I carry has changed for the better. Everyone at Rutgers is special. Everyone. The world is full of seven billion people, and each and every one of us is unique in our own right. We all come from different backgrounds, with our own blessings and struggles, and we all want something for our futures, which is why we are attending one of the top universities in a first world country. I have met others who share the same labels as I do. I have made a family out of the people in Mason Gross. I have made a family of the people in the Muslim Student Association. I have even met compassionate people on the buses going to class. Coming to Rutgers, I have grown to be proud of my “Other” status, because this label is accepted by so many people in this university. This label has made me strong, confident, and extraordinary. Besides having top programs, Rutgers is a community that really does care about its students. I have learned that we are ALL struggling with something in our lives, which in turn inspires us to push ourselves to reach heights that we could have only dreamed of. Thanks to Rutgers, I have found opportunity and community. Most importantly, I have found my voice and the courage to use it to educate, inspire, and speak the truths of my heart. I matter, and so do you.
Photography by Sydney Schwartz