Areesa Somani grew up in Bellevue, Washington, chose Seattle University for its social justice mission and small classes, and found her passion as a Strategic Communications major. By adding a minor in Political Science and participating in a series of internships, she enhanced her experiences in policy and advocacy.
“I chose Strat Com because I wanted to learn how to use research, public speaking, and observation skills for the public good,” she said recently. “Political Science enhanced my understanding of immigrant rights, racial justice, and equal access to education, and Strat Com showed me how to use that knowledge to mobilize and engage the public.”
Last fall, Somani, a Muslim-American who has received hate speech and been bullied because of her faith, surveyed approximately 400 students on their responses to hate speech on social media for her class with Communication Professor Caitlin Carlson. After finding that students of color spoke out less frequently against hate speech than white students because of physical and psychological risks, Somani felt that her experiences as a minority at Muslim-American were confirmed. She presented her findings at the 2016 National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Asheville, North Carolina, and at the 2016 Seattle University Undergraduate Research Association conference. She is now working to publish her research, educate the public about hate speech, and empower Muslim-American communities to speak out against hate.
As the child of immigrants from Kenya and Tanzania, Somani has also taken advantage of internship opportunities to gain greater understanding of how to bring about change. She interned in Senator Maria Cantwell’s Seattle office and then, through the university’s International Development Internship Program, at Leopards Hill Jesuit Secondary School in Zambia. Her experiences landed her a coveted position as a White House Intern in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama Administration.
“I had always wanted to work for President Obama because he made me realize that I am America too,” Somani said. “I started to take pride in my story because I saw so much of my story in him.”
President Obama received about 7,000 letters a day. Her department wrote responses to constituents, chose letters to feature in the President's speeches, and picked the 10 letters that he would privately read each evening.
Somani will never forget being immersed in the White House culture, meeting President Obama on Election Day, shaking his hand, and hearing him speak at White House events, including a discussion about climate change with actor Leonardo DiCaprio. She was inspired by staff and fellow interns who were dedicated to making the world a better place.
“The best part of my internship was the staff and interns who became like family. Their patriotism and generosity truly made me a better person,” she recalled. “There were so many people writing to the President whose letters reminded me of my own struggles growing up and the enormous risks my parents took so they could build a better life here. That’s the story of America. Hope is who we are.”
Somani was also the recipient of the first Professor John R. Talevich Memorial Scholarship, which helped her fund the internship. The new scholarship is named for John Talevich, beloved communication professor and is funded through the generosity of alumni and friends.
Currently an intern with the City of Seattle municipal television channel, Somani assists with community outreach, social media, and video production. She graduates in June and plans to continue her work in advocacy.