By Jonathan Spielmann ’18
The crowd quietly gazes upon her as she discusses her role within the Muslim community. The audience roars in approval as she ends her speech.
It is the ending of just another day for Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) senior Alaa Alshaibani.
At 22, the Tacoma resident is a key member of the Islamic Center of Tacoma (ICOT) , which describes its primary goal as outreaching to the non-Muslim community.
“It is my second home. The ICOT has built my strong foundation in my ability to give back to my community” Alshaibani said.
As a Muslim woman, Alshaibani strives to live by the 5 Pillars of Islam: Iman (Belief), Salat (Worship), Sawn (Fasting), Zakat (Almsgiving), and Hajj (Pilgrimage). The 5 Pillars of Islam have provided her a structured demeanor and work ethic that has given her the drive to succeed within her community involvement.
As well as being a member of the ICOT, Alshaibani is the president of Active Minds on Campus, a club that educates, advocate, and support those with mental illnesses, an employee at the Kreidler Hall as a community advocate for hope, a Case Aide at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), and a tutor for an 8-year-old child with autism.
“Educating students about mental illnesses is tremendously vital. Suicide rates are drastically higher on college campuses,” She stated.
According to a study done at Emory University, there are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses per year. In addition, Caucasians have the highest rate of suicide (84 percent of all suicides).
At PLU, the ethnic diversity is broken down into 67.1 percent White, 8.1 percent Hispanic/Latino, 6.9 percent Asian, and 2.8 percent Black or African American. There are about twenty Muslim students.
“PLU is not even close to as diverse as it advertises to first-year students,” Alshaibani said, “but it doesn’t invalidate the fact that we are here, we exist.”
The PLU senior said she would like a more open dialogue about race and religion and faith intersectionality throughout the campus, especially in our current political climate.
Through all of her hard work and dedication, she has recently been awarded Pacific Lutheran University’s David T. Alger Service Award.
“Alaa is an outstanding woman,” said Lindsey McKee, Alshaibani’s coworker at DSHS.
“Her smile is captivating,” McKee said. “Alaa demands a lot from herself. She will not accept anything that is not excellent. She is very easy to work with, and because she is, you want to work with her.”
So what is in store for Alaa Alshaibani?
The PLU senior has been accepted into the IVY league school of Columbia University for Social work where she hopes to gain further opportunities to give back to her community and increase her skills and abilities to further help minority groups.
“It will be tough to move across the country,” she said. “In my culture, it is looked down upon to move away from home if you are not married. Finding a balance between my Arab and American culture has been an uphill battle all my life, and is something I am still working on.”
Not only does she have to worry about the big move, but her unique financial barrier is also a major obstacle.
“In the Muslim faith, we are forbidden to accrue interest. Loans go against my faith.”
Alshaibani said that the only way to pay for Columbia would be a large amount of financial aid and scholarships, and currently, it is unknown if this will occur.