Student of the Year 2019: Silan Fadlallah
“Equitable opportunities and equitable treatment for people, no matter their social identity,” LSA junior Silan Fadlallah said. “I feel like oftentimes people say ‘equality,’ but you need to understand a person’s background, and where they’re coming from, and some things they have had a disadvantage of, like, growing up — and realizing that they may need more than certain students.”
That’s how Fadlallah defines the term social justice. This past fall, Fadlallah was one of the eight University of Michigan students who brought the Empowered Arab Sisterhood, or Epsilon Alpha Sigma sorority, to campus. Epsilon Alpha Sigma Sorority is the first and only Arab sorority in the United States, and its chapter at the University is the first Arab sorority to claim space on campus.
Fadlallah also serves on the executive board of the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a Palestine solidarity organization, and is a member on the student advisory board for the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Nevertheless, Fadlallah said she also spends a lot of her time outside of classes supporting Epsilon Alpha Sigma as its president.
“Whatever I do, I just want to help people, I just want to make people’s lives better,” Fadlallah said. “The sorority was kind of like a manifestation of that.”
Fadlallah and her fellow co-founders spent the entirety of her sophomore year and this past summer working out the details of how the sorority would function on campus. In the fall of 2018, Fadlallah’s junior year, Epsilon Alpha Sigma emerged as an official colony.
“I think especially because we are in Ann Arbor, which is so close to Dearborn, and we do have, like, a high number of Arab (students) that come to this campus, it’s almost like a unique responsibility to create this space for women,” Fadlallah said. “And to kind of give us that space to empower one another, to learn from one another, just because we’re working together professionally, but also we’re friends outside of that space. So it’s kind of like double the growth.”
Epsilon Alpha Sigma focuses primarily on promoting philanthropy and Arab culture on campus. The sorority recently hosted their first annual “Remembering the Refugees” banquet in March. The event raised money for the public charity Friends of Kayany, a United States-based organization that supports the education of Syrian refugee children living in settlements in Lebanon. The day of the banquet was also the day Epsilon Alpha Sigma was chartered, and turned from a colony into a chapter.
Fadlallah said fellow students’ efforts to pressure the University to divest from three companies operating in Israel, and involved in alleged human rights violations against Palestinians, were a major influence in her desire to participate in social justice activism on campus.
“Getting involved in that and seeing some of my best friends up there speaking on behalf of divestment really, really pushed me to be like, OK, this is actually something I’m really passionate about,” Fadlallah said. “And I think I’ve always just thought of it as a hobby, but I want to turn it into a career.”
As for her plans after graduation, Fadlallah is leaning toward studying law or public policy after a gap year.
“To put a name on something, I know I want to help people big picture, human rights-wise,” Fadlallah said. “I’m not going to be that person on Instagram who’s a social activist, you know, but I think definitely (I’m interested in) more hands-on work, as opposed to office or governmental work.”