Wamia Siddiqui (’21, SEBS/HC/DRC), a new graduate in the public health major, arrived at Rutgers after attending a very small high school, worried she would not find a community to connect with. That worry quickly moved out of view when Wamia started finding community in many places, with the Honors College/Douglass Residential College “Dougie fam” as one of her first Rutgers community connections. Wamia carried a dedication to community-building for the duration of her time at Rutgers, and made sure to channel that love, as she pursued the intersection of healthcare and human rights in her studies. Wamia wanted to avoid the vacuum of STEM coursework and typical research paths. She found support systems to broaden her social justice horizons by participating in the programs hosted by the Douglass community and joining the IWL Leadership Scholars Program. In the continued sentiment of community-building, Wamia believes that as we move back to campus there is much to strengthen in the connection between Rutgers campuses and the surrounding communities.
“…I think one of the best ways to feel less isolated is to go out of your way to meet people who are different from you...I felt heavily throughout my time at Rutgers that there is a disconnect between the Rutgers campus and the New Brunswick community. Many of the people that I have met, and the community that I have felt has been fostered by working together to bridge that disconnect.”
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Wamia wrote an op-ed featured on the Douglass Residential College website in which she discussed the need for interconnectivity as a guide through the day to day. The poetry of Yesika Salgado, whose words were spoken over a livestream, is one thing that connected Wamia beyond her home. Poetry remains a favorite pastime, and is a passion she has incorporated in her work by coordinating poetry events as the co-founder of Rutgers Amnesty International, a student group that meets and advocates for human rights causes.
“I feel poetry and art have always been an outlet, a way of expressing myself that I wouldn't be able to otherwise. Being able to read poetry from women of color, even if they're not necessarily from the same background as you, will remind you of common experiences that people have. And it's really such an important part of my interest in social justice and activism.”
To further express the power of poetry, Wamia referred to the words of Audre Lorde, who said that poetry “forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” The strength and inspiration Wamia gathers from words like those of Lorde and Angela Davis are clearly expressed in her visions for the future and present efforts.
Wamia also is a recipient of the fifth annual Honors College Changemaker Award for her research assistantship, work with Amnesty International, and her commitment to helping asylum-seekers and refugees access and navigate the healthcare system, which she carried out at her internship with the Libertas Center for Human Rights.
Wamia’s HC Capstone, entitled “Clinic to Congress,” was completed in conjunction with her social action project for the IWL Leadership Scholars Program. Originally intended to be a civic engagement program for 15 people, this project grew into something much larger due to the virtual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, “Clinic to Congress” is an online program that trains, educates, and empowers over 100 undergraduate students to understand the political and social determinants of health in the context of STEM and pre-health concentrations. “Sometimes, as pre-health students, you’re encouraged to be neutral or avoid being too controversial or political. It’s a shame because there’s so much advocacy to be done in the healthcare space that can really help patients and people, like LGBTQ+ patients, who are marginalized in healthcare.” Wamia hopes to continue working on this project after graduation and expanding her reach to more students across the country interested in health policy.
Wamia was recently accepted to a Biomedical Ethics Fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and will be moving to Minnesota. She remarks on her excitement for this new chapter, which is accompanied by nerves over moving more than one thousand miles away.
Wamia reflects that she initially regarded undergrad as a stepping stone, but instead she found meaning right where she was at Rutgers. Her involvement and endeavors during her time at Rutgers ignited a feeling of purpose and drive that Wamia believes is rooted in a sense of belonging to the Honors College and Douglass Residential College communities. In her first year at Rutgers, a professor told Wamia that it’s a disservice to the things you are passionate about if you do things that you aren’t passionate about. With that in mind, Wamia offers some wisdom to other students:
“Don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path, especially as a STEM student. Take this time to do things you would never have imagined yourself doing. They might not make sense in your story now, but eventually all the puzzle pieces will begin to come together.”