Class of 2016: Safiah Hassan celebrates diversity and champions cultural exchange

MyVU has profiled a dozen members of the Class of 2016 who embody Vanderbilt’s missions of inclusion and community. Representing a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, they’ve pursued diverse interests at the university. We’re featuring their stories in the lead up to Commencement on May 13.

Safiah Hassan is a Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Honor Scholar. She was photographed at Warren and Moore Colleges. (Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)

Growing up in small-town Kentucky, Safiah Hassan longed to live in a larger city with a diverse population. After applying to universities in major cities on the East and West coasts, she chose to attend Vanderbilt in part for its proximity to home.

“Nashville was close enough that I could travel home with ease but far enough away that I could still assert my independence,” the Murray, Kentucky, native said.

Hassan has made seeking out diverse communities a hallmark of her Vanderbilt experience. She’s a longtime leader in the Muslim Students Association, a member of the Sigma Lambda Gamma multicultural sorority, and active in the Multicultural Leadership Council among other organizations. A natural performer, she has sung, acted and danced as part of annual cultural showcases such as Café con Leche, Harambee and Diwali.

“[rquote]I really love cultural exchange. The best way to meet new people is by learning about their culture,” Hassan said.[/rquote] “The educational events these organizations sponsor are just as important as their cultural showcases. These have been pillars of my time at Vanderbilt.”

As chair of Vanderbilt Student Government’s Community Building, Outreach and Diversity Committee, Hassan spearheaded the inaugural Talk to Me campaign in 2015. “The premise of Talk to Me is to break down barriers and get different types of people talking with each other about issues that matter on Vanderbilt’s campus,” she explained.

In its first year, the project explored the value and limitations of cultural groups self-segregating. This year, it tackled the stigma of mental health issues, including those that arise when minority groups encounter microaggressions. Hassan praised Marcellina Melvin, the Psychological and Counseling Center’s recently hired access and inclusion coordinator, who collaborated with the students on this year’s event.

A Medicine, Health and Society major, Hassan is enrolled in Vanderbilt’s 4+1 Combined B.A./M.A. Program and is already taking classes toward a master’s degree, which she’ll complete next year. The daughter of immigrants from Ethiopia, she’s interested in studying the racial and ethnic health disparities experienced by immigrant and refugee populations.

This summer she will travel with Vanderbilt’s Office of Active Citizenship and Service to study racial and ethnic health disparities in East London, where the largest population of Muslims in the United Kingdom resides. For her master’s thesis, Hassan wants to do a comparative analysis of how community health interventions are implemented in East London and in Dearborn, Michigan, where the largest population of Muslims in the United States lives and where she spent her high school summers visiting family.

“A lot of the time when we focus on racial and ethnic health disparities, we don’t necessarily understand how they intersect with religion,” Hassan said, “so I think I’m really going to enjoy digging into that.”