Alumni Prove Student Advocacy Continues Past College

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Gwendolyn Wu
Campus Beat Reporter

While some student activists retire their megaphones and community-building skills after college, some pursue further grass-roots organizing. Just ask Yoel Yosief Haile and Nadim Houssain, two University of California, Santa Barbara alumni who have continued their work in public policy after graduation.

Haile, who graduated in 2013 with a dual degree in Black studies and political science, has since attended UC Berkeley for his master’s degree in public policy. While at UCSB, Haile served as the Associated Students student advocate general, and worked to ensure that the UC would fund over three million dollars for the recruitment and retention of Black students on campus.

Houssain also graduated in 2013, but with a degree in history of public policy. After graduation, he served for two years as a community and economic development coordinator in the Peace Corps in West Africa, and will start at Harvard University in the fall for his master’s in public policy. As the external vice president for statewide affairs, Houssain broke a school record which stands to this day.

“[Our most successful campaign as the EVPSA office] was getting 11,190 students to vote,” Houssain said to The Bottom Line. “We broke our previous record that was set about four years prior to that by about 300 registered voters, getting about 12,000 votes within the Isla Vista/UCSB area.”

Both Haile and Houssain have carried their experiences at UCSB into the future. The Bottom Line had the opportunity to chat with Haile and Houssain, who made appearances on campus to attend the Office of the Student Advocate’s end-of-year banquet, culminating in a roundtable discussion with fellow alumnus Paul Monge-Rodriguez.

“It’s just crazy how the organizing work has really helped me a lot more with my professional life than has any of my Black studies and political science classes,” Haile said at the event. “I was able to get further with a lot of things, get a lot of job or internship opportunities only because I was able to say, ‘Hey, we did this with that.’ You only realize in retrospect how many people don’t have people skills.”

They found that student organizing on the UCSB campus prepared them well for the real world, as a community with its own nuanced political climate. Whether working to register students to vote or mobilizing students to lobby local politicians, both cited their personal experiences as key factors in establishing their

“I draw on my organizing experiences as EVPSA all the time,” Houssain said in reference to his recent experience as a field organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign. “Something I learned early on as EVPSA was if you really want to get invested students in a movement, you need to make sure that they feel they have a stake in it.”

Some of the advocacy that Haile has done since includes working with the statewide Afrikan Black Coalition, which consists of 15 Black Student Unions and groups across the UC and California State University system. Haile was part of the group that got the UC to divest approximately $25 million in holdings from the private prison system. Houssain worked as a field organizer for volunteers with the Bernie Sanders campaign in New York, North Carolina and South Carolina.

While there is certainly more ahead for both, it appears to be that both stay humble and grateful to their roots for teaching them what lies ahead. Drawing on the life lessons that UCSB taught him, Haile offered advice about building healthy relationships.

“Be gracious with people,” Haile said. “Always remember that hurt people are people. When people do things that are out of line, it’s always in the benefit of all of us in the long term to just pause before you react to what just happened. Think on it, sleep on it and if you still have the same reaction the next day, react. Don’t let your initial reaction and anger be the first reaction out of you.”