Interview by: Minhal Nazeer
Name: Bayan Galal
Based In: New Haven, Connecticut
Bayan is currently a pre-med student at Yale University, as well as the Student Body President of Yale. She is the first Muslim and Arab woman to be elected president. She hopes that she can use her position as a way to connect with other women and making sure that no one ever feels "less than". Bayan encourages all women around her to go for it. There are no limits to what we can't do if we just try. She hopes to widen the circle of empowerment in women to including women of all marginalized groups, including Muslim women, and recognizing those who aren't being heard and bringing them into the conversation.
If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would it be?
I would say I'm someone who is willing to go the extra mile to help others out and achieve the milestones that I want to work towards.
Can you tell me about your childhood and your experience as a woman in your hometown?
I grew up in a really small town in Connecticut that was not diverse at all, so I think my experience as a woman in that town was also informed as being a minority woman and a woman of color as well. I think that growing up my Egyptian and Muslim identities were two very important and central things to me, and that really informed my experiences because as a woman of color in spaces in my hometown especially in school, it meant that a lot of the times that I had to educate people on my experiences and my background and things like that. So I think that that was definitely a big part of growing up, getting used to what it meant to have people be so unfamiliar and you kind of having to take on the role of educating them on that. I think especially being a woman and woman of color, a lot of times your traits or your leadership or things like that can be more easily overlooked. And so having those systems in place meant that a lot of the time, I had to kind of climb over a lot of additional barriers to get to the points that I wanted to reach. I'm grateful for the work that I put in and grateful for the experiences that I had in the sense that they kind of built me into who I am now. But I would definitely say that being a woman—especially a woman of color—in my hometown was not an easy experience.
Yeah, I completely understand that. Even going to a private school in Kentucky. I mean I bet for you especially growing up you were probably like the first like Muslim anyone ever met or something and you're like representing your entire race.
Yeah, I think it's definitely a very like interesting experience from the people around you haven't been like exposed to someone like you and it's kind of on you to shape their perspective and make sure it's a positive one from the start. It's a big responsibility to take on.
Yeah and if it's a bad experience they're like suddenly like oh all people who are like this are like that. Can you think of a time that you felt particularly aware of your gender and how it led you to be treated?
I think this is something that has always stood out to me that isn't as specific. It stands out as an idea because it's something that's very repeated especially growing up and particularly more in middle and high school. As a woman in like meetings who is trying to get involved in extracurriculars, it's much more easy for your voice to be spoken over and for your ideas and input to be less valued. I think that was definitely something that was much more of like a recurring theme that stood out to me, and so when I got to college, it was really important for me that I didn't let being a woman mean that my voice was any less heard or any less valued in the rooms that I entered. Now, in the role that I'm in, I also make sure that the voices of other women are especially brought to the table and amplified and that they feel especially comfortable and ready to take on those expanses because that even though it's not one specific instance that I'm citing, it's much more just a very general recurring theme that I felt like I've consistently experienced and that had a big impact on how I approached a lot of my experiences in college after going through that.
Yeah I completely feel that especially now because for some reason where I go to school, especially in my grade, pretty much every extracurricular—like the extra mile that you go—it's been all women for me. I don't know any boy who actually tries in my school. So yeah I don't think I've ever felt like that until now because I'm the only girl in my comp sci class this year. I have like all these boys around me trying to teach me how to code or tell me I'm doing something wrong. I'm like no, I'm not.
Yeah I definitely feel that. I think that's another common one, now that you say it too. I think that in certain STEM classes I've definitely experienced that whether it was like AP classes in high school or like STEM classes that I'm taking at Yale now, it’s a very common experience where men in the room will just assume that you have less knowledge or less experience associated with something. And I think learning to overcome that and being firm in that you have your knowledge and your experience is a big thing to kind of establish.
Yeah of course. So right now, what are you studying at Yale?
So I'm a pre-med student, and I'm double majoring in molecular biology and global affairs, and I'm minoring in global health studies
Okay so would you consider that to align with your passions?
Yeah definitely. I think that a lot of times when I first say what I'm studying, people are a bit taken back by it because it seems like a lot of different interests at once but the goal when I picked my majors and my minors was that all of my interests would be able to tie into one another. So like I mentioned, I'm pre-med, and I'm interested in medicine and healthcare, but I'm also really interested in how international development and policy work can tie into health care and be used to actually better health care experiences, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Being able to study both at the same time—not only my interest in in STEM and medicine—but also my interest in global affairs and global health has been really valuable to make sure that I hold on to both interests and see how they can inform one another and actually really connect beautifully.
That's amazing. I think that's especially really important because so many people now are finally starting to see that there's like different paths you can go besides just being a doctor or just being a lawmaker and are trying all those passions together at the same time.
Yeah definitely, and I feel like it's been a good experience to kind of forge my own path and direction in how I wanted to approach being pre-med. I think that a lot of times it's like easy for there to be a clear-cut path that that people will want to follow, but I think that I've tried to really like hone in on the experiences and interests that I have and use that to guide and inform what I choose to do
What would you consider your proudest accomplishment?
I feel like the most immediate answer would probably be being elected the the first Muslim and first Arab president of Yale. I think that it's obviously very recent, but the scale and magnitude of it and the impact that most importantly it's been able to have on other people has probably been one of the most rewarding parts about it.
Yeah that's amazing. How has that experience been for you?
It's been incredible but also I would say like a lot of work has gone into it; it's really enjoyable but also really demanding at the same time. I think that like being in this role there's so much that you can do and there's so much that you kind of preside over that you want to do it all and I think that I'm definitely someone who thinks that once there is that opportunity, I want to make sure that I do everything I can.
But at the same time it is really rewarding to see that the impact that I can have in the role and also by being like the the first Muslim and first Arab in the position to also like see the impact that it can have on other women of color to hope that like you know more women of color can can take on roles like this as well.
Yeah of course I bet you're like already opening up so many paths just by existing that's amazing. How would you say you empower people in your life and or communities?
I think that the biggest thing I try to do is really really be there for people as a resource. I think that more often than not there's a gap in information and knowledge and resources, and I think I can be the person to fill that gap for people—especially for other women and especially for other women of color. I think that's one of the most valuable ways that I see that I can empower them—by giving them the tools, the resources and the information that you know that can put them on the path of pursuing what they hope to. I think that especially at a place like Yale, having someone who can advise you, someone who has this past knowledge and experience is really valuable and really important and being able to navigate going to school here.
And so I think that I have definitely honed in on trying to be that person for a lot of other women at Yale to make sure that they have someone that they can turn to during their time here.
Yeah I mean especially I feel like as people of color like when your parents haven't been building like generations of connections you kind of have to start it all on your own, so it's like such a different position. Who or what taught you the importance of empowerment and how did it affect your life?
I feel like I have a few different answers to this, but I think the most obvious one and probably the most basic one as well would be my parents—and particularly my mom. My mom is someone who sacrificed a lot for each and every one of my siblings and I, and in the process of that she was always working to make sure that we could pursue our interests and the experiences that we wanted to. And so I think that she taught me a lot of that and what it looks like to be willing to go the extra mile for other people. She taught me what it looks like to genuinely hope for the best and want the best for other people and to be willing to work alongside them to have them achieve those things.
I think that her instilling those values in my siblings and me very early on was definitely a guiding force in the experiences and interests that I ultimately had.
Do you have any advice for girls who are also trying to empower themselves?
Yeah, I think the the biggest thing is to like to go for it. As simple as it sounds, go for it.
Do not let whatever factors it may be— the fact that you're a woman, the fact that you're a minority, the fact that other people will perceive you different—do not ever let other people be the reason that you don't try something. Not even the reason that you don't do it, but the reason that you don't try it in the first place.
I think that it's really understandably so easy for us to get overwhelmed by the stereotypes and the preconceived notions and assumptions that people will have about us as women,
but I think that even so, it's important for us to try to move forward as best as we can to try as many experiences as we can and to do what we can to pave the way forward because even though we do have a more difficult path ahead, I think the more of us who are willing to go forward and try despite the obstacles that are in front of us, the easier that it can become for the woman after us and the woman after her and the woman after her. And so that's one of the most critical things: not letting other people be the reason that you don't try something and to always go for it no matter the odds, no matter the obstacles.
How can the international community help you and your community in a legitimate way? Is there anything you want us to share with our Global Girlhood community in particular?
I think a big one that stands out to me, especially when we're talking about spaces that center women in their experiences, is the importance of including Muslim women. A lot of times in spaces that include women, it's easy for Muslim women to either be forgotten or to still have a lot of added stereotypes placed on them especially for Hijabi women. So the overall message would be that in these spaces and conversations that we have, it's incredibly important that we look around and think about what women haven't historically been included and haven't had their voices and their perspectives included as much.
And so obviously for me, the ones that come to mind are Muslim women, but I think there are also so many other like groups of minority women as well. It’s important to really take the time to critically think about who has and hasn't been included and who needs to be brought to the table. Thinking about what tangible steps can be made to make sure that their voices are the ones being represented—to speak on their behalf—is really important.