Jad Elharake has much to look forward to as a graduating LSA senior. He’s taking a gap year working at the University of Michigan Medical School, where he will look at health inequities through the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion. Next year, without the pressure of coursework, perhaps he’ll have more time to watch Real Madrid play soccer or practice dabke, an Arab folk dance he loves. But Elharake also has much to look back on, particularly within the communities he’s worked these past four years.
“It’s the communities that I’ve been a part of, it’s the support, it’s the going through the struggles with other students, that’s what I’ll miss the most,” Elharake said.
Being of an Arab-Muslim background, as well as being a first-generation student, Elharake has spent much of his time on campus devoted to empowering these communities.
“It’s the idea of one, the identities that I hold, but at the same time, it’s knowing that this institution is not built for the students who come from my communities,” he said. “That drive of changing this institution and changing campus for it to best fit my communities.”
Elharake was the host of Arab Xpressions, the Arab Student Association’s annual culture show, and is a diversity peer educator in West Quad Residence Hall. Another organization he’s part of is PILOT, a group focused on guiding students, primarily those who are first-generation or underrepresented, to become leaders on campus. Elharake serves as the undergraduate adviser in Pilot, where he works to inspire younger students on campus.
“Now, I’m empowering the next generation of students,” Elharake said. “It’s all about preparing for them for their next steps, what they will do on campus. What PILOT will do is prepare you to be a leader in your own community on campus.”
In addition to this work, Elharake has been active in working with the administration to help better support the Arab and Muslim communities. In 2015, Elharake and others pressured the University to acknowledge the Beirut terrorist attacks — an issue hitting close to home for Elharake, who immigrated from Beirut to Dearborn when he was seven. Eventually, Elharake, along with other students and faculty members, formed the Islamophobia Working Group, a group of students, faculty and administrators who meet monthly to address anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments on campus.
Elharake is one of the main organizers of #WeExist, an initiative started in the Islamophobia Working Group. It’s a campaign to add a Middle Eastern/North African identity category to University documents. The team reached out to all three University campuses, meeting with administrators and garnering student support. Central Student Government eventually approved the category, and now Elharake is working with them to figure out implementation.
“We were thinking about how we have concerns and issues in our communities, but we don’t have data that backs that up,” Elharake said. “That’s where it all came about. The reason we don’t have data is because we’re not counted on campus.”
Though he will soon be leaving the University, he plans to continue his activist work through medical school and beyond.
“Taking this work, seeing how I can translate it into medical school, and then seeing how that can translate into my academic career,” Elharake said.
As an activist and a mentor, Elharake firmly believes in one’s duty to help and empower future generations. This is the advice he has for other students — more of which is to come in his commencement speech at graduation:
“There are people who helped get you to where you are now, and played some type of role,” Elharake said. “It’s almost your responsibility for the next group of students. It’s the idea of paying it forward.”