By First-Generation Students For First-Generation Students

Are you a COD first-generation or international student? Voting at the upcoming SLC election will ensure that your voice is heard by student leaders with the same backgrounds.

Yusra Jaleel, Staff Writer

A pivotal experience of college is getting a glimpse of the diversity that comprises the real world. Although many College of DuPage students hail from DuPage County, a considerable percentage of its students also come from countries across the ocean. Walking across campus presents fresh, 18-year-old student faces just as it does 40-year-old, experienced ones and everything that falls in between. Representing all of these students are the Student Leadership Council. This year, all of the candidates running for the 2022-2023 term are international students, first-generation college students or both. 

With the SLC election on the horizon for the upcoming week, the student body has been presented with an opportunity to become familiar with the candidates running for office. The virtual SLC forum hosted over Zoom on March 10 allowed the candidates to participate in a Q & A segment pertaining to their previous administrations as SLC officers, objectives for their new terms, and personal experiences that have not only prepared them for office but shaped each person into who they are today.

The 2021-2022 term emphasized making education and resources accessible to all students. Last year’s office extended the Open Educational Resources program that provides free classroom materials through releasing textbooks and other resources under a public or open license domain.  

The candidates’ universal focus for the upcoming year is extending that accessibility to first-generation and international COD students. Through each candidate’s own background as either or both types of students, they can better appeal to the demographics and advocate for the relevant changes. Some of the candidates in running are the first generation in their family to attend college, some are the first in their family to pursue higher education in the United States, and some are both. 

This year’s sole student trustee candidate – who is also running for an SLC officer position – Ayesha Shafiuddin, described her experience immigrating to the United States in pursuit of an education. 

“When I was a little girl growing up in Saudi Arabia, I would often look at the sky and wonder if I would ever get a chance at an education. It was a big dream of mine, so I never knew if that was going to happen.” she said. 

Shafiuddin said her experiences in Saudi Arabia and the United States broadened her perspective and allowed her the first-hand experience to appreciate diversity. She feels she is qualified to provide the specific resources and assistance needed by international students because she has lived the part herself.

Hajira Fathima, the first SLC officer candidate on the ballot, is both an international and a first-generation student.

“I have a background similar to Ayesha, and I also fall under the list of immigration [students], which itself is a whole, big experience.” Fathima said. 

She noted that she “falls as a first-generation student in the U.S.,” and that she and her slate mates Naila Sabahat, Karla Jimenez and Muhammad Usman Naeem plan on a major project for helping new generation students by instating a peer program. 

The next candidate on the ballot, Sofia Espinosa, is also a first-generation college student and understands the experience. 

“Similar to the other candidates running, I am a first-generation student as well, and as well as the oldest sibling. I know how hard it can be to navigate the world of higher education,” Espinosa said.

This quality drives a large component of her aspirations in office, as Espinosa wants to “reach out” to these students herself in order to assess their specific needs and “give them a helping hand.”

Nauman Mohammed is the next candidate, and similarly to both his slate mates and opponents, he came to the United States as an international student. Although originally from India, Mohammed grew up in Dubai prior to immigrating here. 

“2021 has been the roughest year for me in terms of my immigration status. At some point, I lost all my credibility as a student, and I almost gave up on everything in the mid-year,” he recalled when prompted about a significant life lesson. 

Mohammed persevered and returned to the U.S and his studies. He described the experience as strengthening and humbling, from participating in virtual meetings across late nights due to a drastically different timezone to working his way up the organization while abroad and having little experience with American college. 

Mohammed spent the first year of his time on the council simply observing the structure of COD to adjust to the vast amount of new information, giving him a broadened, personal understanding of what is and is not in place for international students.

Naila Sabahat, the next officer candidate, did not speak of her specific experiences as a first-generation student although this shared trait characterizes her slate with Fathima, Jimenez and Naeem. 

She wants her term to consist of serving students to ensure their individual needs are met. This includes both first-generation and international students 

“My purpose [in office] is to serve students and communities to provide superior opportunities and prioritize needs as students.” Sabahat said.

The next candidate is Karla Jimenez who is also both a first-generation and international student who came to the United States in pursuit of a college education. 

“I remember I was trembling, and I was so insecure about everything.” Jimenez said when describing her experience as an immigrant student. “My English was one of my biggest insecurities.”

She wants to implement resources to specifically hinder the language barrier that exists for international students based on her own experiences as one. This way, the resources that the SLC provides are available to every student, including those who don’t speak English or aren’t yet as comfortable with it. 

The final officer candidate is Muhammad Usman Naeem, who in addition to also being a first-generation college student, has lived in Pakistan, Japan and Dubai before immigrating to the United States at 17.

Naeem and his slate members are focusing on a new initiative for first-generation college students called the New Generation Students program.

“We are trying our best to get the new students connected with current students within COD, so that they can get more of a peer mentorship [experience].” Naeem said. 

The program is intended to assist these students of varying backgrounds with understanding and navigating the resources available to COD students. 

The Student Leadership Council Election will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, March 16 and 17, on All students and eligible faculty members who are registered in a credit course can log onto the website with their Blackboard username and password to cast their votes. The final results of the election will be posted online on Friday, March 18.