If you’re looking for Abdimalik Buul at Southwestern College, you might find him in his counselor’s office helping a student figure out their major or a certificate program. You may find him inside a classroom teaching a Personal Development class for the Umoja (formerly The Exponential Learning Academy) African-American learning community.
If you couldn’t find him there, you might find him serving in his role as co-chair of the Southwestern College Black Alliance. He might be leading a workshop and helping students who have been academically disqualified. He may be meeting with the students for one of the clubs he advises – the UMOJA club or the Muslim Student Association.
You might find him studying for his educational psychology doctorate program through the University of Southern California. If he’s not on campus that day, it may be because he’s taken a group of Umoja students on a Historically Black Colleges and Universities tour.
While Buul may be switching gears and roles from day-to-day and often even hour-to-hour, all these things that keep him busy have one thing in common: they’re driven out of his dedication to helping students succeed.
“I push my students to be excellent,” he said. “It comes with resistance sometimes because a lot of them are not used to being pushed like that. I’m holding them to a different standard that no one has held them to before.”
In his Umoja Personal Development classes, Buul teaches his courses from a black and afro-centric perspective to help students see that greatness among themselves is possible. Buul, who is one of the only three Somali community college counselors in the state, points them to the success in their cultures and heritage.
“All the heroes they’re taught about from K-12 don’t look like them, all the inventors that they’re taught about don’t look like them,” he said. “The people who teach them don’t look like them. That’s why it’s important for them to be in this program, to see counselors and professors that look like them. It’s important that that imagery and critical consciousness is built into students.”
— Malik Buul (@MalikBuul) September 13, 2017
For Buul, part of helping coordinate Umoja and being a professor in that learning community is coming to terms with the realities that many of his students might be facing. Most are first-generation students, some have records, some come from broken homes, some are single parents, some are older than he is.
“I sent one of my students to USC in two years and she was a young mother,” he said. “In Umoja, we deal with the impacts of the African American community, so I have to really be delicate in how I teach my students. But I will still demand excellence. Sometimes they may not be used to that. They may hate me now, but then they’ll love me.”
There are many things Buul attributes to his dedication to student success and providing them opportunities. Buul’s father was an imam, a Muslim preacher, who served and helped the community and instilled those same values in him at a young age. Buul is also a product of the community college system, having graduated from Mesa College. He knew first-hand the hurdles students go through and the importance of mentors.
“I want to be a person that connects with people, a person that’s passionate about uplifting people,” he said. “Here, we’re in the position of support. That’s the beauty of our job. We’re here to impact the lives of our students.”