Featured Alum: Heba Mohammad

Heba is a 2014 graduate who majored in Political Science and History with an Environmental Policy and Planning Minor. Heba currently works as a National Field Coordinator for the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC. Pictured above: Heba Mohammad, center right, here with Arab American Institute colleagues and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), center left.

When did you graduate and what did you major/minor in? May 2014, Political Science & History, with an Environmental Policy & Planning Minor

What do you do now? I work as a National Field Coordinator for the Arab American Institute (AAI) in Washington, DC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy institute. My day to day work varies, but everything I do supports our mission of empowering Arab Americans to become civically and politically engaged. I get to meet, work with, and support Arab Americans all across the country, and it is a gratifying experience. 

Why did you decide to major in Political Science and History? I entered UWGB with the intention of becoming a history teacher. After learning about the classroom placement experience required of all education students, I began to reconsider that path because I didn’t know how I would physically transport myself to & from the placement sites, and that was an enormous source of anxiety for me as a car-less student who, at that point, had never used public transportation. (Shoutout to my friend and fellow UWGB student, Rosa, who later taught me how to navigate Green Bay Public Transit.) Transportation, or lack thereof, has impacted my life choices at many intersections, including this one, and I am passionate about public transportation as a result. All this said, I later learned how supportive the Education Department is in helping students overcome these kind of obstacles, and this support is an incredibly important factor in recruiting diverse and inclusive educators. 

With the seeds of reconsideration planted, I explored other programs. I took an introduction to political science course my first semester in 2010—at the same time that now-former Governor Scott Walker began his attacks on unions and the education system. As we were learning about the political process, the classroom lessons were unfolding in real life and real time due to the state’s political upheaval. It was empowering to understand what was happening in our government and, perhaps more importantly, to understand my options for fighting back. 

My love for history remained, and complemented my political science classes well (#interdisciplinaryeducation), so I majored in both programs. To round off my education, I got a minor in EPP after learning about the field of environmental science in an introductory class my first semester.

I had a wonderful education in each program that is due entirely to the incredible faculty and staff at UWGB who were fully invested in their students’ success. 

What academic experience or accomplishment are you most proud of? I am proud to have participated in a UWGB Study Abroad program to Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. I am proud, first and foremost, because a small university like ours offered such a compelling, important trip to begin with. Our academic lessons during the trip covered history, geopolitical tensions, and cultures few other universities in our state or beyond would be interested in covering, then or now. I am proud of the faculty who sought out stifled perspectives, especially as they related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps I didn’t realize it then as a student, one of only six on the trip, but it took an incredible amount of courage to execute this trip and make it substantive rather than performative during a time of regional political turmoil. I am proud our university’s faculty did that.

Personally, that trip was the first time I felt comfortable being proud of myself as an Arab American. Growing up, I didn’t have any Arab American role models in my life (besides my family) to teach me to be proud of my Arab heritage. So I wasn’t. At UWGB, I took Arabic classes to learn how to read and write a language I’d only spoken. At UWGB, there were people interested in my Arab culture. And at UWGB, I got to participate in a study abroad trip that allowed me to share myself and my experiences—from the food I grew up eating to my reality as a Palestinian subjected to restrictions and extra scrutiny when crossing the Israeli border—with my peers, and to travel back to a homeland I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. 

Undoubtedly, my experience learning about, sharing, and embracing my Arab American identity at UWGB encouraged me onto the path that led me to AAI and organizing our community.

While not strictly an academic experience, I must make mention of the immense pride I still feel for the four years I spent in the Student Government Association. I served two years as SGA President, and I am extremely proud of our Executive Board and Senators for the work they did in their respective areas of interest, and for their contributions to our shared goal of restoring university sponsored childcare services. Ultimately, we passed a ballot initiative to put money aside for a childcare center. That childcare fund came with bylaws requiring an evaluation every 5 years to determine the viability of a childcare center. That five year mark is in the fall semester of the 2019-2020 academic year (now!), and I hope students make the right choice to protect this childcare fund and support equity in education access. 

What is an important goal or accomplishment you are currently working on? #FreePalestine. Advocating for Palestine comes as second nature to me in my personal capacity, and I now get to work on it in my professional life, too. AAI primarily focuses on domestic policy, and while our work does touch on foreign policy related to Israel & Palestine, my contributions are on the domestic implications of the United State’s relationship with Israel

Many people don’t realize this relationship impacts them, and, therefore, don’t care to learn about it. But the US relationship with Israel is impacting Americans’ free speech rights in a tangible way, especially on college campuses. The fight to protect advocacy for Palestine is playing out on campuses across the country as schools restrict the rights of both students and faculty to criticize the Israeli government inside or outside of the classroom. Many states are passing anti-boycott laws that specifically prohibit government employees or contractors from participating in the popular Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement—a non-violent form of protest to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations and apartheid practices and laws, modeled after the boycott movement used against South African apartheid. Disappointingly, and illegally, Wisconsin has an anti-boycott law that is likely to be challenged in court in the near future. Boycotts are protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution, and, yet, many states are willing to put Israel’s rights over their own citizens’ rights. Here’s a link to find your state representatives so you can call them today to demand they repeal this law and protect your rights. 

As the 2020 election cycle lurches on, our team at AAI is executing our PalestineIs campaign to ensure candidates and voters are well educated on the issue and fall on the right side (read: the side that supports human rights for all) of history and this crisis of justice. This is personal to me as an American and as a daughter of the Palestinian diaspora, and I can’t imagine policy more vital, more distinguishing in this election than that which shapes the fate of Palestine. 

What do you do for fun? I enjoy painting my nails, watching Parks & Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, attempting (and usually failing) to recreate my mom’s Arabic recipes, sending postcards & letters to friends, and showing visitors around DC. I also enjoy connecting with other Arab Americans generally, and specifically those who want to run for office. I ran for office in 2016, and want to help others do the same. Connect with me on Twitter (@heebs25) if you’re an Arab American interested in running for office! 

What else do you want people to know about you? On my first day of kindergarten, I argued with my teacher over the pronunciation of my own name. I lost that argument, and settled into being “HE-ba” for years. That experience led me to believe non-Arabic speakers couldn’t pronounce my name, but I was wrong. So, let’s try again: Hi, I’m Heba. “Hi-beh” is a close transliterated phonetic spelling, and here’s a helpful recorded pronunciation. Thank you for helping me be truer to myself by honoring my name.