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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Dismantling Barriers for Community College Students

Hossna Sadat Ahadi
As a counselor and assistant professor at Palomar College, Dr. Hossna Sadat Ahadi is a champion for racial equity and social justice on her campus. Her motivation, she says, comes from the kinship she feels with the students she meets on a daily basis.

“When I see my students, I see the future of this country — but I also see myself,” she said. “My students are international students, immigrant students, undocumented or DACA students, and English Language Learners. Seeing my students and the inequities they are confronted with gives me the motivation to do more for them.”

The San Diego State University alumna graduated from the Community Based Block, Multicultural Community Counseling and Social Justice master’s program in 2007 and earned her Ed.D. in Community College Leadership in 2019. Sadat Ahadi now leads professional development workshops focused on racial equity, decolonized teaching and antiracist education.

In this tumultuous year, she has also led campus forums and healing circles for Black Lives Matter, Asian American Pacific Islander students who felt targeted by pandemic-fueled racism and campus-wide antiracism efforts over the summer. She is the founder of Empowered Womxn and Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education at Palomar College. She is also a member of the Relations with Local Senates Committee for Academic Senate, California Community Colleges.

Recognition for her good work has followed. This year alone, she received the “Under 40” national award from the American Association of Women in Community Colleges, the “Women to Watch” regional Award by Connected Women of Influence San Diego and the Faculty Service Award from Palomar College Academic Senate.

Sadat Ahadi credits her SDSU education for empowering her to make an impact in her community and in the education system. She said her experience in CBB was “healing,” enabling her to recognize the marginalization she faced as an Afghan-American, Muslim, immigrant, and woman of color while empowering her to become an advocate for social justice. Her doctoral program, she adds, allowed her to understand research when transforming the education systems for student success.

“My education at San Diego State has allowed me to critically reflect on the systemic and structural racism that exists in the education sector and how to transform community colleges to be equity focused,” Sadat Ahadi said.

Her own narrative informs her work to a significant degree.

Sadat Ahadi was a year old when her mother brought her to Southern California amid violence in their native country, Afghanistan, in the 1980s. She reunited with her father for the first time at the age of 7 years old. Like many immigrants, her family experienced socio-economic challenges in a new country.

“When I work with students who have had housing and food insecurities, I can really relate to that,” Sadat Ahadi said. “I have to say my education is something that nobody can ever take away from me. I do the work I do as a counselor so that I can give my students resources to social and cultural capital, validating and providing a sense of belonging for them — all which provide agency for students who are confronted with ongoing barriers.”

She’s also passionate about instilling the importance of education in her twin 6-year old daughters. Last year, Sadat Ahadi’s doctoral graduation happened to coincide with her twins’ kindergarten graduation, and she made it a point to take commencement photos with them in their caps and gowns. One of these photos now hangs on the family’s living room wall — serving both as a keepsake and an important reminder.

“I tell my children education is endless and little girls with dreams become women with vision,” Sadat Ahadi said. “As an Afghan-American, I was fortunate to have the choice to seek my education. Other Afghan women were forbidden from attending schools and seeking their education during the Taliban occupancy in Afghanistan.

“I was determined to achieve my education — not only for myself but to advocate for the rights of all women across the world who are forbidden their basic human rights to learn and be educated.”