Doing Our Part and Hoping for the Best
A circuitous journey
Yusra Hassan began her undergraduate studies in 2021, but the institution was already a familiar place for her parents.
Years earlier, they had immigrated to the United States from Sudan and sought out pro bono services from U of M Law students to become naturalized citizens.
“My parents remembered all of the students by name, all of the restaurants they went to,” she shares. “When we were moving into my dorm, they pointed to a coffee shop and said, ‘We used to meet here.’ They were really helped by the University and I got to see what an impact those law students made on them.”
Her parents’ experience has had a lasting impact on Hassan, too. The political science major will graduate this fall and prepare for law school where she hopes to pursue pro bono immigration work.
Hassan considers it a circuitous journey.
“My parents sacrificed so much. They came to the United States because their main goal was for us to get a better education. So coming here, to the University, was a way to give back to my parents for those sacrifices.”
But, she notes, there is still a lot of work to be done. Laws, policies, education, and immigration are all intertwined, and Hassan hopes to use her lived experiences to advocate on behalf of the next generation of immigrants.
Her time in CLA has prepared her well for this advocacy.
Making policy-making more representative
In the spring of 2023, Hassan was selected to participate in an education policy internship through the Capitol Pathways Program. The program provides Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students with legislative and career readiness training during Minnesota’s legislative session.
Hassan’s internship at EdAllies, an organization that seeks to improve the lives of K-12 students across the state, fulfilled her passion for giving back to marginalized communities and also challenged her to reconsider how she defined ‘education.’
“Going to the Capitol every day and hearing legislators talk about improving K-12 education made me realize that education is not just college education, it’s all of the experiences that help shape your future.”
And shaping the future also requires civic responsibility.
“Vote and hope for the best”
On campus, Hassan has been active in the University’s Row the Vote initiative—started by the Government and Legislative Affairs Team of the Undergraduate Student Government to drive student voting efforts.
“The goal is finding ways that we as student advocates can encourage students to vote, but also to think about how we can use our role as student leaders to talk about voting and civic responsibility,” Hassan says.
These efforts have included social media campaigns, student outreach, and a Democracy Cup to reward the school in Minnesota that had the highest voter engagement. Organizers have also arranged some special early voting transportation. “For an entire week, we had limos, big Hummers, and party buses come to take students to the early voting location in Minneapolis in what we call 'Party to the Polls!' We wrap up this week with our annual recurring Voterpalooza event.”
In preparation for the 2022 midterms, the Government and Legislative Affairs Team partnered with faculty and instructors, too, visiting over 600 classrooms during the course of a week to talk about the importance of voting and specifically “what was on the line during this election.”
“If someone sits down and maps out their steps [to vote], it makes them think through it and will hopefully make them more likely to actually do it.”
Even still, Hassan acknowledges that many students feel indifferent or even cynical about casting their vote.
“We have to acknowledge that there are a lot of not-so-great things happening in the world,” she shares. “But elections are going to keep happening, we cannot abstain from democratic institutions that shape our daily lives. We must do our part and vote and hope for the best.”
Raising participation in voter engagement
This story was written as part of CLA’s Dream Initiative—a year-long, community-wide effort intended to commemorate, foster reflection, and amplify our shared social justice aspirations for change.