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Recently elected ASB Vice President Sandy Mekany overcame racism and anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in post 9/11 America to become a prominent student leader on campus. Recently elected ASB Vice President Sandy Mekany overcame racism and anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in post 9/11 America to become a prominent student leader on campus.
 


After Childhood Rife With Post-9/11 Racism, Daughter of Immigrants Strives to Shape Policy

Incoming Associated Students' VP Sandy Mekany says personal experiences drive her commitment to influencing change on campus and, one day, in the courts.
By Aaron Burgin
 

Sandy Mekany remembers the first time a classmate called her a “terrorist”: the daughter of Chaldean immigrants from Iraq, she was a third-grader in Scripps Ranch, a community in San Diego.

Today, the new vice president of University Affairs for Associated Students, reflects on how the racism and anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in post-9/11 America briefly dimmed her pride in her heritage but ultimately forged her ambition and passion.

“During those low points, I kept reminding myself of my story and (that) what people were trying to shame me for should be something I should be proud of,” Mekany said. “My heritage is a beautiful thing. And my parents’ resiliency … gave me that grit and determination to move forward.” 

Mekany said she used her experiences and her parents’ story of immigrant resolve to propel her path forward at San Diego State University, where she has become a prominent student leader with aspirations of becoming an immigration rights attorney. 

A senior in political science this fall, Mekany spent the fall 2021 semester in Washington, D.C. as a participant in the Congressional Internship Program run by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which is a decades-old competitive congressional intern program. 

Experience with Discrimination Motivates Career Path 
 
Mekany was born in 2001, six years after her father first immigrated to San Diego from Iraq and seven months before the Sept. 11 attacks changed life in America for many immigrants.

Throughout elementary and middle school, Mekany said she dealt with prejudice and microaggressions from her classmates, who teased her about her accent and family traditions. 

“I don’t want to say that my experience was the worst, but the reason it was so difficult for me, I think, was because it led me to feel uncertainty about my own culture,” said Mekany, adding that her family is Christian but experienced Islamophobia. 

Mekany’s mother and brother arrived in the U.S. from Jordan in 1996. The family moved from Scripps Ranch to El Cajon when she was in eighth grade. She finished middle school at Scripps Ranch, then attended Valhalla High School, which has a large Chaldean community.

“Once I settled in, I felt like I belonged in a way I never did before and had a chance to make a difference,” she said. 

Mekany found her stride at her new school, becoming involved in orchestra, cheerleading, track and field, and Associated Student Body leadership. She was student body president during her senior year. 

It was also during her time at Valhalla that Mekany said she also became aware of the importance of policymaking with respect to immigration.

“It solidified my desire to be a lawyer,” she said. “Seeing how my friends who were DREAMers (young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to U.S. as children and granted temporary permission to live and work here) were treated and the ‘zero-tolerance’ policies that were enacted set the switch off for me.”

Diverse Experiences Drive this Student Leader 
 
In addition to Associated Students, Mekany, who is in Weber Honors College and minoring in sociology and honors interdisciplinary studies, has been involved with the Center for Intercultural Relations (CIR), the Middle Eastern Student Union, Cru MinistriesTijuana Homebuild and Rotaract. She also tutored students and signed students up for COVID-19 vaccines.

Then, last fall, Mekany landed the Panetta internship. After two weeks at the Panetta Institute, Mekany was placed with the office of U.S. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) for the fall 2021 semester.

Porter’s office praised Mekany’s performance in the internship. 

“In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities, Sandy took the initiative to seek out briefings and events across Capitol Hill to attend and learn from,” said Nora Walsh-Devries, Porter’s chief of staff. “Sandy never thought any task was too big or too small, and her cheerful attitude made our office brighter.”

Paige Hernandez, currently the manager of EOP’s Learning Support Center at SDSU, and who previously served as CIR’s director, said Mekany’s presence in the center has been invaluable.

“In all of her leadership roles, Sandy is authentically herself — which means embracing and celebrating her identity as a first-generation American, daughter of Immigrants and Chaldean woman,” Hernandez said. “I am excited to witness Sandy's impact on Associated Students next year and the change she is going to bring to the institution.”

One of Mekany’s proudest accomplishments is the active role she played during Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) Heritage Month in April. She held an event to help Middle Eastern students overcome and fight stereotypes and held an Arabic Coffee Cup Reading with a special guest speaker: her mother, Ban.

Ban said she broke down in tears when she saw her daughter in charge of the event. The tears were the culmination of a family’s hard work and dedication, painful trials and rising above adversity.

“Here she was, a leader, she brought all these students, and they were listening to her and when she introduced me, I broke down,” Ban said.
“I am just so proud of her, she is going to be something one day, she is going to change society in America, trust me,” she said.

For more information on the Center for Intercultural Relations and its events and programming, go to https://sacd.sdsu.edu/intercultural-relations or visit their Instagram or Twitter accounts.