Rahima Morshed ’20 is beginning her summer break by changing the world.
The rising senior is one of 50 civic-minded young Virginians convening in Charlottesville this week for the Global Pathfinder Summit. This prestigious event gives emerging leaders the chance to hear from dozens of internationally renowned speakers discussing topics pertaining to today’s youth and the challenges they will face over the next several decades, such as global health and poverty, food insecurity, climate change and the state of global democracy.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” said the sociology major, who was selected based on her proven record of student leadership, community service and a desire to solve problems and create sustainable change. “Knowing that I am one of these global leaders coming together for a week of civic engagement, civil discourse, networking and sharing lived accounts is the exact encouragement and experience I need to strive toward my future goals.”
Morshed is no stranger to turning discussion into action. Her parents, who hail from Bangladesh, encouraged her and her three sisters to serve the community. She came to Mary Washington because she knew it was a place where she could do just that.
She first fell in love with the university when, as a teen, she volunteered as a henna artist at the Multicultural Fair when her older sister attended UMW. Since coming to Mary Washington, Morshed has been an active member of Eagle Bhangra, BellaCapella and Symfonics. She has combined her love of the arts with her passion for social justice by performing topical dance pieces about domestic violence and speaking on campus about the significance of immigrant women in America.
As the chair of the Diversity and Unity Coordinating Committee (DUCC), she’s served as a liaison between underrepresented student populations and UMW’s student government and administration, working on issues of diversity, safety and inclusion. “I’ve played the role of a bridge between the disparities that existed among these bodies of people at Mary Washington, and as challenging as the position may have been, I have loved every minute of it,” Morshed said.
For the last three years, she’s had the opportunity to work at the James Farmer Multicultural Center under the direction of Marion Sanford, who encouraged her to apply for the summit after witnessing Morshed’s work with DUCC, as well as her involvement in last year’s Social Justice and Leadership Summit and other events on campus that promote diversity and inclusion.
“Rahima has never hesitated to speak out and galvanize other students when biased incidents or issues occurred on campus that were offensive and contrary to the values UMW upholds,” Sanford said. “If any situation seemed unsafe for any member of the campus community, Rahima felt it was her personal responsibility to give voice to the voiceless and work toward a resolution where everyone could feel safe and welcomed.”
In sociology classes with LaWanda Simpkins and Tracy Citeroni, Morshed said she learned the importance of empathy and listening to the lived experiences of others. “Rahima brings such a wealth of knowledge and compassion with her into the classroom. She is undeniably committed to the full work of social justice,” said Simpkins, James Farmer post-doctoral fellow, who praised Morshed’s dedication to putting her education into practice on campus.
During the weeklong summit, which will be held at the University of Virginia and other locations in the Charlottesville area, the UMW student leader – along with Mary Washington alumna Marina Castro-Mierelles ’18 – will attend interactive workshops and engage in networking opportunities. She will also listen to a multitude of speakers, including internet activist Wael Ghonim, who advocated for democracy during the Arab Spring; Nicol Perez, former United States Youth Observer to the United Nations and Civic Education Partnerships Manager for Facebook; and Tanja Porčnik, president and co-founder of the Visio Institute and co-author of The Human Freedom Index.
But the speaker Morshed is most eager to listen to – and hopefully meet – is Jessica Posner, chief operating officer and co-founder of Shining Hope for Communities, an international nonprofit that addresses extreme poverty and gender inequality.
“It started as a grassroots project,” said Morshed, who plans to attend nursing school after UMW and currently works as a personal care attendant and volunteers at Mary Washington Hospital. “It’s the exact direction I see myself going.”
Her future plans include establishing her own nonprofit focusing on public health. Morshed has seen firsthand the importance of knowing CPR and First Aid, and she wants to educate others on hygiene and sanitation, especially in underdeveloped countries where young women and girls are ostracized over their reproductive health. She sees it as her life’s mission to end stigmas that have lasted for generations.
“I think civil discourse is the start to all problem-solving, and I hope that through the summit, I’ll learn the right tools and methods to engage, in the most effective way, with others around the world.”