Personal growth and identity remain close to Gabriella Zeidan’s (BSW, ’20) heart. As an outstanding graduate from the School of Social Work at Colorado State University, she learned to embrace her own identity and advocate for social justice.
Zeidan was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and grew up in several different towns before attending high school and part of college in Austin, Texas, to adoptive Lebanese American parents. Before attending CSU, Zeidan studied music at a community college in Austin, Texas.
She originally planned to study music at CSU but decided to change her major to social work a week before her first semester. After making the change to social work, Zeidan felt a fear of failing due to the learning transition.
“This change shook me, and I felt afraid of failing as I had not been in auditorium classrooms. I hadn’t written papers or read chapters since high school,” said Zeidan. “I spent seven years doing music and did not feel prepared for this dramatic change. I took six courses a semester while working and volunteering to prepare for a master’s program. I felt I was catching up on my education and never stopped studying.”
While a social work major, Zeidan’s eyes were opened about how others are discriminated against, including her own experience.
“I became considerably more aware of my own racial identity, which I had neglected since I was 16,” said Zeidan. “I learned about the ways that we all play a part in white supremacy and ways we can dismantle that system and how it starts with us. This was the first time that I felt I had an honest mirror held in front of me. I could not be silent. I spoke up more for the first time in my life, asking questions, pushing dialogue, and learning for myself and for others.”
Involvement on and off campus
Zeidan says her professors and adviser have all served as mentors during her undergraduate career. They helped her discover her own strengths and the power in her voice.
“I made an active effort to make office hour appointments simply to find a reason to speak about a pressing topic or areas that I am struggling with and ask for their guidance,” said Zeidan. “My professors allowed me to feel worthy and seen. They reminded me that when things seem overwhelming, to take the smallest step forward. They taught me that it is not the burdens we have in our lives, but it is how we carry those burdens. They taught me to be brave.”
Zeidan says her professors entrusted her with responsibilities such as being a group leader, a facilitator, and giving a presentation and engaging in Social Work’s Dialogues around Difference series. Zeidan and a co-presenter spoke to the CSU community about the Arab and Muslim experiences in America, Middle East immigration, and the racism and prejudice before and after the 9/11 attacks, as well as their own experiences of discrimination on and off campus.
Zeidan’s passion for equality and fighting oppression was spread throughout the CSU campus. She held meetings with the President of CSU, Vice President for Student Affairs, and CSU Provost to advocate for a mandatory class on dismantling privilege and oppression to be open to all incoming students.
Outside of the classroom, Zeidan worked as a childcare specialist at Respite Care in Fort Collins helping children and young adults with developmental disabilities. For her practicum, she managed a group of students working in social work type agencies to help them problem solve, mediate conflicts, and provide guidance and mentorship to help them develop social work professional skills. She also volunteered at the Matthew’s House providing academic and emotional support to youths.
Plans after graduating
Zeidan is graduating cum laude and is applying to graduate programs at CSU and the University of Texas to continue her education. Currently, she is working in Austin as an intern for the Excellence and Advancement Foundation which works with youth to help them stay out of the criminal justice system. After earning a master’s degree, Zeidan would like to work with black and brown youth who suffer from discrimination in the education system, policy, and community. She also wants to work within policy change to serve as a bridge for this community and providing resources to help them succeed.
After struggling in high school, Zeidan is proud of her academic successes at CSU. “I did not allow those who said I can’t to vanquish my spirit. I did not run away when I could have done so easily. I persevered and made it to graduation, which was something I never thought I could do.”