On the afternoon of April 26th, 2017, political science junior Jasmin Fashami was declared Cal Poly’s 2018-2019 Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) president. As an immigrant and first-generation college student and an active member of the Cal Poly community, Fashami sees her new position as a way to impact the student body, emphasizing student group collaboration and communication. She founded the pre-law fraternity on Cal Poly’s campus, Phi Alpha Delta and this year she worked in ASI as the Secretary of Student Advocacy, where she focused on student advocacy on campus and within the city of San Luis Obispo. Fashami will graduate next spring and plans to take a year off before attending law school. The Wire sat down with Fashami to learn more about her goals for the upcoming year.
Did you always know you would one day run for ASI president?
Actually no. I was really interested in running for Board of Directors for a long time. In the past couple months I had some conversations with people within ASI about what I wanted to do in the future, what my plans were and how I envisioned ASI helping students, and I realized that a lot of what I wanted to do couldn’t be accomplished as a Board of Director member or even Chair. So a week before filing I made my decision to run for president. A lot of people were surprised but I’ve received so much support.
What are some of your overarching goals for your term?
One thing I’m really passionate about is the relationship aspect of students amongst one another, internally, but also with the city and with the administration. I want to make sure that we are one cohesive body working to help one another rather than butting heads. The ASI president has a lot of influence in being that student voice for the 20,000 students on this campus. I’m just one person. I have not experienced what every single student here has but I’d like to think that this summer and moving into my term will be a really great opportunity to start forming relationships with student groups. I want to make sure underrepresented student groups are not being pushed to the side, but that their voices are at the front of the discussion.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My mom was a refugee during a war in Iran, so she had to move to Denmark at 16 years old and try to survive not knowing the language and with no money. It was a very difficult time for her and hearing her story and her perseverance has been a really big motivator for me. She is a single mom right now and I admire my mother for everything she has done for me. She has gone above and beyond to provide for me and my little sister. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have done without her.
How did being an immigrant influence your childhood in the United States?
I was six years old when we moved to the U.S. from Denmark. Not having that initial foundation where I had family members who had gone through the university system or who had grown up in American culture was very difficult. The one story I always joke about is that I literally didn’t know what a dishwasher was until I was 14 years old. We would clean the dishes, hand wash all of them, and then use the dishwasher as a drying rack. I don’t want that to sound like we are dumb or anything, it is just so different culturally. My mom and I had to grow together to understand how to best live in the United States. But she is my best friend now. We have grown and done a lot together and I think changing with one another bonded us a lot.
Do you see your upbringing playing into your everyday life?
I think it has taught me some discipline and also a lot about being open-minded and malleable. Coming to Cal Poly and having to go through a lot of changes all the time is somewhat normal to me and I find myself a lot more relaxed with change. I’m not so rigid or a certain way and I think that makes life a lot easier for me.
What motivates you?
I’ve known I wanted to be a lawyer since I was in middle school. I actually saw “Legally Blonde” and I know it’s a funny movie, but the idea that a woman had been stereotyped for who she was and she completely defeated all of those negative perceptions stuck out to me. That was kind of a beginning motivator but hearing my parents’ stories and their trials and tribulations really motivated me and made me realize how privileged I am. I definitely had challenges being a first generation immigrant but nowhere near the things they went through. The line that really motivates me is: “Use the law to give a voice to those that do not have one.” I see myself working in international law one day and specifically international human rights, and my parents have definitely been the cause of that.
What would you say to other first generation students that are looking to find a place on campus?
Growing up, for a long time, I was actually embarrassed of my culture and my upbringing. I saw myself as being very different and sticking out when I really just wanted to be like everybody else. But now I see my culture and upbringing as something that helps me stand out and that adds character and a different perspective to a lot of things, whether it’s with my friends or within ASI. I think that embracing my culture, who I am, where I am from and my family has really shown me that. It comes down to finding really great friends and individuals who will support you and not look at your culture as your identity. We should be able to embrace our differences and bring out the best in one another.