Like many throughout the country, the day after last year’s presidential election was a difficult one for Associated Student Organization President Mona Dibas. As a Muslim and a woman, she was someone who felt targeted by the us-versus-them rhetoric and the sexism that was so prevalent throughout the election season, and that has continued into the new presidential administration.
“For me, as a Muslim woman who stands out, I was asking myself, ‘what now?'” Dibas said.
Dibas took that simple question to her fellow classmates at Southwestern College and the rest of the Associated Student Organization. As a Palestinian, Dibas knew that she had the power of words and activism on her side, and as solidarity movements like the Women’s March started taking over parts of the country, the UNITED movement was born at Southwestern College.
The movement aims to, as its name suggests, unite people from different backgrounds and bring them together, specifically people of color, minorities and marginalized groups. The movement and its spirit is represented by a small jade green pin with “UNITED” written on it. Take a walk on campus and not only will you see students wearing it, but you’ll see college faculty, staff and administrators wearing it.
“The pin itself is a support system. It’s a symbol that says, ‘I’m here for you,’” Dibas said. “I might not understand you, I might not understand your struggle, but if you need a friend and an ally, I’m here.”
The movement is a way for people to showcase solidarity and acceptance. The pin also helps promote conversations and education throughout the campus and the movement’s main goal of education.
“Not only am I your friend, but I am open to questions and a conversation with you,” Dibas said. “You can ask me about my hijab, you can ask me about my religion. Just like if I see the pin on you, I might ask you about your culture or your life or your struggle. The more educated we are, the stronger we become.”
Although UNITED wasn’t created until last November, the themes and ideas of UNITED have existed in the ASO since Dibas took office. In June, before she ever even got the keys to her office inside the Student Center, Dibas organized a campus vigil for the victims of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting.
“In this time of hatred and violence, it’s our duty to love,” Dibas said in front of the campus community that day. “So let’s unite and fight this with love.”
Those words were the beginning of the UNITED campaign. That day she set the tone for this current ASO administration, a tone that says the students at Southwestern College will stand beside people who are attacked and marginalized. Though that day she may have been speaking specifically in solidarity with the victims and the families of the Orlando shooting and the LGBTQIA community, that same message has resonated throughout the year.
Though she’s a proud Palestinian woman, and the first Muslim ASO president-and fighting islamophobia and teaching people about Islam and Muslims are things high on her list-Dibas is a champion for all diversity and social justice issues and minority groups. She’s helped reaffirm the inclusivity on campus by bringing together thoughtful discussions on racial and social issues. She’s also hosted Black Lives Matter events, held a series of post-election forums and has advocated for undocumented students and immigrant resources on campus.
Dibas credits her religion, Islam, to giving her important values such as peace, love, unity and harmony that she’s worked to emphasize in the ASO. It’s a commitment to those values that made diversity and inclusiveness a forefront of the Associated Student Organization this past year.
This fall, Dibas is off to UC Berkeley where she will continue her studies in English and history, and expand the UNITED movement. The movement will continue here at Southwestern College. Incoming ASO president, Kyrstin Smith, and returning Executive Vice President Jose Gutierrez have expressed a strong commitment to continue UNITED and its foundation of bringing people together.
Wherever Dibas may go, she said that Southwestern College will always be the place that allowed her to create the UNITED movement, a place that gave her the platform to fight injustice and a place that let her bring people together through love and solidarity.
“This isn’t just a campus that you come in and take a class and leave, it’s a home,” Dibas said. “You come here and you have a family and a support system. Even without UNITED, I felt that already. I was so lucky to have Southwestern College. I’m grateful, I’m humbled and I’m thankful for Southwestern College.”