In the final week of her junior year, Dorsa Djalilzadeh prepares for her coming year as the second female CCSGA president in eight years. A political science and feminist and gender studies double major, Djalilzadeh has spent her three years at CC working with FemCo, SASS, and CC Dems, working to improve the lives of the student body: never losing sight of the experiences of marginalized students. Now, with the whole school’s attention, Djalilzadeh takes the next steps to ensure a community of inclusion and open dialogue.
Interview by Sam Silverman
The Catalyst: When and why did you first have the thought to run for CCSGA president?
Dorsa Djalilzadeh: When Donald Trump passed the “Muslim ban,” it was on seven countries and one of them was Iran, and I am Iranian and my entire rest of my family is back home in Iran. And so that was really horrifying and really troubling to see that I potentially wouldn’t and couldn’t be able to see my grandma again ever, and obviously I know the ban has been detained to some point now, but it’s still very scary thinking about going back and coming back into America, and so me and my family are not sure if we want to go back and travel anytime soon. That was a really rough time because when it happened that morning, I had no idea who to go to. And I thought the school didn’t handle it particularly well. They sent out an email that was basically just like a warning for students who are immigrants, or students who are like myself. But the thing is they didn’t address students like myself who were born in America and who are U.S. citizens but may have family in these countries and I just thought the school didn’t handle it very well, and I didn’t particularly have anyone to turn to.
So I talked to Nadia Guessous a lot—who is my FemGen advisor—and she was a really great resource; she’s from Morocco and so it was somewhat at least a little more of a connection for me in terms of somebody who could understand, and a lot of my friends are really amazing, but a lot of my friends can never understand and can never really truly relate to what I was experiencing, and so the one thing I wanted to do was start a group for Muslim and Middle Eastern students for them to have a group to reach out to and a community to reach out to, but then I thought this is a much bigger problem in how the school deals with things in terms of marginalized students in general, and so I talked to also Yogesh Chandrani, who is Nadia’s husband and who was my professor 5th Block for Politics, Religion, and Secularism, which I think was pretty appropriate. We talked a lot about how you can change these institutions that have been working against you for so long and trying to work from the inside out.
And so that was my idea that “maybe I should talk to Annika about running for student body president.” It was 5th block that I approached Annika and was like “can you tell me about what this is and what your duties are” and just the dynamics of CCSGA. Yeah, that was my first foresight into thinking about it.
TC: Describe your campaign platform and how you plan to implement that into your term next year.
DD: So my platform is—and this might sound trite—but definitely inclusion and reaching out to our marginalized students especially because I believe that they are such an underdeveloped and, quite frankly, ignored part of our college and they have so much potential to bring so many new perspectives and ideas and to contribute a lot to how our college and as a community. I want to make sure we are a community because we are such a small school. For one thing, I want CCSGA to not be so insular that they have that image that you go to CCSGA just to get funding and that they are a very elite within themselves group, and I definitely want to dismantle that a lot. And so my hope to do that is to, first of all, engage our disciplines with one another so like FemGen can interact more with Physics because they’re totally different and separate entities. And I know for a fact that one doesn’t know what the other is doing in terms of the faculty of the students: those interactions across disciplines of just getting to know each other, and this is an all college kind of thing. I would think everyone is here to get a good education, and I think building outside of your report a little bit is something we lack and is something we could build upon. Generally just reaching out to the Colorado Springs community, I had a meeting with Josh Green, who is on the city council–works directly under the mayor–who is trying to cultivate young professionals in the community and I think CC is a really good untapped resource in trying to do that and also in order to increase our community engagement and increase our community within CC and outside of CC.
I have a lot of other plans in terms of having the Butler Center work with groups they haven’t traditionally worked with, like Greek life or sports teams. And again, a lot of those groups are very insular, like the ORC. I hadn’t gotten to know what the ORC does until this year until I became friends with people who implement a lot of things in the ORC. I think just fostering those relationships is super important to make sure our community is one, so we don’t have more incidents like the Yik-Yak incident so when Donald Trump is elected—or something like that—we don’t have people talking on the sidewalk like, I don’t know what it was, but I want to stop those incidents from happening and people don’t feel unsafe in any way and that they feel like that have a place to go to. And so I hope CCSGA can take that place a little bit, in terms of being in an administrative role, but obviously we are representing the students, and hopefully we can bring that back a little bit, in a way next year.
TC: What is your top priority in your new leadership role come August 28th?
DD: I’ve been approached with a lot of ideas, I’ve had meetings with Rochelle Mason and Dean Edmonds and it was really cool talking to them because it seemed like a lot of their priorities matched with my priorities. For one thing, I want to hit the ground running with “West in Time.” I’ve been having a lot of conversations with professors and students, and the thing is, a lot of the conversations have been happening behind the scenes, and I don’t think that people hear about that, and so people are like, “it’s not going to happen.” But I think we are in a pretty good position to get a really good change, and either changing the name to something more appropriate, reducing it to one block, or taking away classes that would have that requirement: for example, I think it would be really good to have Intro to FemGen be a West in Time, because I think it’s super crucial to have some classes be required for students to take, and others not so much, perhaps.
One thing I think we also need to address, obviously, is housing and meal plans. I know that’s been a concern, especially for [the rising junior] class, and obviously I don’t think we are going to get to implement change for [that] class, but for incoming classes after that, I think it is pretty, not shameful, but, I think it needs to be addressed seriously, and that we need to adapt to our demographic that’s coming into CC. It’s changing every year, but and we can’t use the same formula of, you know, how many students we let in, or what type of students we let in, and who gets to live on-campus and off-campus, and like, meal plans. For one thing, a lot of students can’t afford to live on campus with the whole meal plan and everything, in terms of just either they have mental or physical disabilities and it’s better for them to live off campus, or it’s better for them to take care of their own meals and do what they need to do. It’s something we really need to address because our students are our priority and if they’re unhappy then we’re doing our job completely wrong. So those are a couple of things I need to address as soon as possible.
TC: What is your biggest fear of taking such a high position in student government?
DD: I think is: I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and tell me that they know I’m going to do great things and they know I have a lot of potential, and I guess my biggest fear is letting those people down. I’m not scared so much of what people will say about me in terms of if I don’t accomplish things, because obviously when you have such a high position, people are going to hate you, and people are going to love you, and I’ve adapted to that as Fem-Co Co-chair, so I’m used to that. I don’t like it, obviously, but there are going to be people who are happy with you, and people who aren’t going to be happy with you. But I have a lot of ideas and hopefully good ideas for what I want to accomplish, and I just don’t want to let anybody down. And I want to hopefully live up to people’s expectations of what I can accomplish, but that is something a little bit concerning, because a part of me is like, how much of “you’re going to do great things,” is because I’m a queer, Muslim, woman of color in this position of, “I expect you to do great things for marginalized students.” I want to as well, obviously, do the best that I can in this position, but I just don’t want people to be disappointed if I can’t get things moving as quickly as I’d like to. It’s not just me. It’s all my VPs, the entire full council, it’s all of CCSGA, and it’s still in the administration under President Tiefenthaler. Yeah, I just don’t want to let people down, basically.
TC: What do you want to be when you grow up?
DD: I came to CC thinking I wanted to be pre-med and be a surgeon—like be an ER trauma surgeon—and do everything exciting, like things with blood. That quickly changed after I took my first PoliSci class, and also I took Chem I and I was like, “nope, not for me, this is horrifying.” But I think I’m going to law school after I graduate from here, so I think I’m going to be a lawyer for a while, and I think I also want to be a diplomat or an ambassador or something—particularly with countries in the Middle East, obviously because I am invested in it that personally—but in terms of how we approach and how we represent marginalized people, and especially Muslims in this country is horrifying, especially since I see pretty detrimental consequences from the rhetoric President Trump has been fostering continue to become exacerbated, and I want to alleviate some of that. My mom is like, “You’re going to be president of the United States next,” and okay Mom, let’s slow down, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. That’s the general trajectory, but we’ll see.
TC: If you could put three items in a time capsule to be opened 5 years from now, what would they be?
DD: It’s not like a journal or a diary, but it’s this notebook that I just like vomit all of my thoughts into, like my schedule, or “buy new contacts” or something, just random stuff like that. And I’ve always tried to write journal entries or if something cool happened one day. I try to keep up with it, but I struggle a lot. I’ve been trying to be better about if I had a really great night or a really great day to just be like, “This was great,” so I just pour everything into this random ripped up notebook.
I think I’d put my phone in it because, for better or worse, it has the majority of my life in it. I’d also like to see how technology advances from there. I do have a lot of events stored in there and pictures that are pretty important, so I’d like to put that.
Maybe my favorite book—but that would be hard—just to ground me in what was important to me at this time and seeing if that has changed.
TC: What do you currently believe is the biggest issue on our campus?
DD: I think the biggest issue is the disconnect and dissonance between our student body and the different groups that exist, for one thing: groups like, again, the Butler Center, the Athletic Department. They’re all disconnected from each other–and just our social strata within classes, between classes, everywhere. There are just some groups that are totally encased in themselves–like totally insular–and we are all guilty of that.
And the issues of marginalized students—especially of Middle Eastern and Muslim students—is going to happen with everybody. But I think it’s important that we try to move past that and break out of our little bubbles and have kind of an osmosis of going back and forth, because that’s really huge. Otherwise, we’re going to have an incident like the Yik-Yak incident, and some students are going to be outraged and be like, “No, this has been happening and this rhetoric has been going on for a long time,” while other students are going to be like, “What? Racism on CC’s campus?” That is my biggest concern. That cannot happen again, and I think it’s still happening and we’re all just blissfully in our little friend groups and whatever. And it’s not to say we should all be friends and have kumbaya moments, we could all do a better job.
TC: What is one book that has changed you or your view of the world in some way during your time at CC?
DD: I would say every book I’ve read for Nadia Guessous has been life changing. She’s incredible and I’m just going to do a shameless plug for her that everyone should take her class. Her classes are just absolutely incredible, and I’ve left every single class and my mind has been blown. I will actually leave class and look at the world and have my world-view be totally shifted. And I think one of the coolest books we read for her was called “Desiring Arabs” and it goes into basically covering the vast expanse of colonization and fetishization and general appropriation of Arabs and Muslim people and how our teleological view of time has made it so the West and everything progressive is seen as the best, and everything Eastern is primitive and something we need to overcome.
And that progress is something we should all be working towards, just like building a hierarchy. And I’ve had a perception of those things for a while, but having it delineated so perfectly in that book is crazy. It was like an actual idea and concept that had a theoretical idea and then had a whole bunch of research done under it was crazy to me. So that book also has a lot of really hard truths and things that would probably offend a lot of people—and have offended a lot of people—and I think it would be hard for some CC students to read and be okay with it, but it definitely changed my life. I own a copy and plan on reading it many times over. Obviously it’s a very difficult book, but I think that book changed my entire perspective on how I view the world, honestly.
TC: So you talked about how you plan to change CCSGA to reach and involve more students, but what are you planning to do tangibly make it more inclusive?
DD: What I think I want to do is, for one thing, continue dialogue dinners, which I think are very important. I know Block 1 is going to be a lot of focus and a lot of workshops, where myself and my executives in CCSGA meet in groups with Co-chairs of the Butler Center and the ORC and Greek Life, to first of all hear their goals for the year in terms of inclusion and diversity, and then I think once we hear their goals in terms of the focus groups, bringing that to CC. So I want to do that with, again, dinners, workshops, fun activities, just because even inside CCSGA, sometimes it can be really great just to get a casual, informal dinner and talk and get to know each other on a personal one-on-one level. And so I think as much as we’d like to go really big picture immediately from the start and tell all of the fraternities to be better in whatever way it may be, you have to start by knowing who is the president of K Sig and who is the president of Fiji, that sort of thing. I feel like you really can’t get anywhere until you have any sort of personal relationship with people.
My first goal for Block 1 is to hold myself accountable and hold CCSGA accountable to reaching out to those groups because I think that is kind of what we exist for, to like tentacle out and reach all these groups, because otherwise, I don’t think they’ll do it themselves because they haven’t.
TC: On both your first day in office and the first-year class’s first day at CC, what is one piece of advice you would give them? What is the best piece of advice you have received thus far for beginning your new job?
DD: Oh, what advice would I give them… I think I would tell them to not freak out about your academic façade I recently have heard a lot of students be like, especially now because were juniors about to be seniors, she’s like “Oh what am I going to do with myself and my career and my life,” and I think a lot of people have either. I’ve heard a lot of people say they regret, or not regret but almost wish they had gone down a different track or wish they hadn’t goofed off freshman year, but I really do think that’s important: to explore those avenues or take that cool class on Edgar Allen Poe that you really wanted to. Like, I took a class on Lord Byron, which was like an English/Comp. Lit class that is really like not at all what I do, but it was so fun and I really really loved it, and it might be counted as goofing off because it was obviously no credits that would work for my major, but it was super fun and I met a lot of great people that are outside the usual people I see every day in every single poli-sci class. And so, I think it’s really important to be okay with exploring things and if you find a cool class take the cool class. And you will have time to take care of your major, like I did a double major; you will have time to do that stuff. And it is super important because those put you in different social situations and social groups that you might not normally be in, and to enjoy that and do the fun crazy classes you want to do. I think the best advice I’ve gotten was to—it came from Annika—take yourself seriously but not too seriously.
At the end of the day, this is a job, and I decided to do this because I was super passionate and dedicated to it. And I know that obviously its going to be very difficult because this is my first time, I wasn’t in CCSGA before this, and so I know there’s going to be a lot of hurdles in terms of learning the constitution and the bylaws and everything, but I really truly believe that if you are dedicated and committed to anything, that no matter how experienced or familiar you are with it, you can execute a really good job. But also there is going to be tensions or issues that come up, but it’s a job. You can’t let people get to you in certain ways. If you have faith and believe in yourself doing these things, you’ll be fine. And my mom has also said this; I’ll be crying about something and my mom will be like “Dorsa, you’re going to look back on this and think ‘that was dumb, why was I doing that,’” and that has literally happened so much for me, especially this year where I’ve looked back, and I’ve been like “why was I crying, why was I upset. Everything is going to be fine, everything’s ok, everything will be resolved,” and I think that’s something important to remember, and it’s going to be hard to remember. Because again, I am very passionate, I either put in 110 percent and I have a hard time backing away completely, so just knowing things will be resolved and things will figure themselves out at the end of the day.