Arab-American Muslim elected SGA president at Vanderbilt: Will speak at 9/11 commemorative ceremony

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. elected its first Arab-American Muslim as Student Government Association (SGA) president this year. Samar Ali spoke at Vanderbilt’s “Come Together” ceremony two days after Sept. 11, and she was elected SGA president a few months later.

To commemorate Sept. 11, Ali, Chancellor Gordon Gee and others will take part in “A Day of Hope and Remembrance” activities at Vanderbilt. Gee, Ali, faculty, students and staff will take part in a noon forum to discuss the tragedy and its aftermath.

Almost one year ago, Samar told the “Come Together” crowd, “As an American, I felt angry. How could someone do this to America? I was upset as a Muslim and an Arab. I thought, ‘My God! Do people hold me responsible for this? Do they think that my religion thinks that this is okay?’”

A few days after Sept. 11, a friend told her it was time for her to choose between being an Arab and an American. As Samar says, “What he simply just didn’t understand is that there is no need for separation. I will always be Arab, and I will always be American, and I will always be Muslim.”

Ali grew up in a small town of 6,000 people in Waverly, Tenn. Samar remembers her fourth grade teacher asking her to teach her classmates Arabic each Friday. She’s not sure if that would happen today. She talks about Mrs. Monroe, a Church of Christ member, who told her she would be her American grandmother since her real ones live in another country. She also remembers someone coming up to her after a basketball game and saying she would go to hell because she did not believe in God.

Her parents are physicians and picked Waverly as their home 26 years ago after seeing a newspaper ad for doctors.

Her mother, Dr. Maysoon Shuqair-Ali, is from Syria and her father, Dr. Subhi Ali, is Palestinian and, at one time, lived in Ramallah. Both received training as physicians in this country.

Like most small-town physicians, the Ali family is truly part of the Waverly community. Samar’s father is president-elect of the Tennessee Medical Association, belongs to the Rotary Club and is a general in the State Guard. The family is actively involved in the national Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Samar is a senior and plans on attending law school following graduation.

Other 9/11 commemorative activities at Vanderbilt include a 7:30 a.m. CDT ceremony for the lowering of the American flag on Alumni Lawn at 7:46 a.m. CDT—the time of the first attack on the World Trade Center. The noon forum/discussion will be at the Sarratt Student Center terrace. At 4 p.m. CDT, a campus, multifaith, multicultural “Service for Peaceful Tomorrows” is scheduled at Benton Chapel that will feature poetry readings and music. During the day, a “Hope and Remembrance Tree” on Alumni Lawn will be the site for students, faculty and staff to write messages and thoughts on pieces of cloth to encourage healing and reflection. The pieces of cloth will be placed on the tree.

Contact: Emily Pearce, 322-NEWS,

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