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March 22, 2022

Student view: Creating a space for all

Siham Hassan is a third-year student majoring in political theory and constitutional democracy in James Madison College, and media and information with a concentration in film in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Hassan is also minoring in business and entrepreneurship and innovation in the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She was recently named a finalist for the Burgess Institute’s New Venture Challenge.

Growing up, I’ve heard disparaging remarks like, “you’re too black,” “you don’t belong here,” “you’re a terrorist,” “you’re an embarrassment.” And for a long time, I let that influence how I viewed myself. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t pretty and that I didn’t belong in certain spaces.

I measured my value based on what others said of me and, oftentimes, found myself crying, praying to God to make me prettier. My skin, lighter. My hair, softer. Only then — maybe I’ll find a place where I belong and be liked by my peers because all I was looking for was acceptance.

Today, I am changing that narrative. My skin may be “too black,” but I am absolutely in love with it. I am not a terrorist. I am a Muslim woman. I am not an embarrassment. I am brilliant, and I was the valedictorian of my high school class.

I belong wherever I choose to place myself, including pageants which I competed in this past August, making it into the top 15 of over 50 girls and winning Miss Congeniality! Yeah, you could say Sandra Bullock had nothing on me!

I am also the creator of Foreign House, a membership space for artists coming from various backgrounds to promote diversity and inclusion and serve mission-minded companies. I believe that in a world full of humans, we’re lacking humanity and create all these boxes and labels and judge others when they don’t fit into those categories.

Foreign House is all about changing the narrative and, more importantly, "being the change we wish to see" rather than expecting others to create that change. Foreign House celebrates individuality and makes room for all voices to be heard, to be seen and to be empowered. While promoting diversity and inclusion and uniting people from different communities, Foreign House also creates opportunities for everyone to pursue their aspirations and dream big.

As a survivor of the Darfur Genocide, I remember a time when I didn’t know what it was like to dream. I was 5 years old when our home was burned, and we were forced to flee our land.

Foreign House is about all of us. It’s about coming together and making the impossible, possible. You could look at me and judge me for all the wrong reasons, or you could ask for my name. Get to know my story. Everyone has a story to tell.

Through the Burgess Institute and the Hatch, I have had access to numerous resources that have helped elevate my ideas and have allowed me to collaborate with other amazing entrepreneurs. I have developed so much as a student and as an entrepreneur at Michigan State and, for that, I will forever be a proud Spartan.

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