Since earning her degree in Neuroscience from Brock in 2017, Aniqah Zowmi has worked in youth advocacy and prevention of violent extremism, she’s worked with the United Nations and UNESCO, volunteered at a science centre sharing her passion for the natural world with children, and showcased her talents in various other initiatives and projects.
Back at Brock for her Masters of Arts in Social Justice and Equity Studies, Zowmi is concentrating on feminist and anti-colonial theory and the application of these theories to social enterprise. Aiming to complete this degree by the end of this term, Zowmi plans to graduate in June.
Zowmi initially chose Brock not only for academic reasons, but also because of the sense of community fostered at this small, tight-knit institution. Having experienced the suspension of extra-curricular activities during her high school years due to the contract negotiation of Toronto District School Board educators and dreaded not having enough experiences on their university applications, Zowmi was surprised to see a student protest during her first campus tour.
“The tour guide apologized on behalf of the university, but it struck me as fascinating,” said Zowmi. “I remember that student protests were discouraged within the [Toronto] school board; to see the juxtaposition of that experience with the community engagement at Brock was empowering — how convinced were students that the community was listening to them that they would put in the effort of arranging the protest? How committed and passionate were these students? What was the environment they were privy to that cultivated activists such as these?”
Having excelled academically in neuroscience, the decision to transition to focusing on humanitarianism was not easy for Zowmi. The initial experience that prompted this change in her career goals and a memory she cites as her fondest at Brock was the creation of BrockU Talks, a speaker series like the popular TEDTalk series. Working with a small group, Zowmi helped to bring the Brock community an opportunity to speak about their passions.
“This initiative ran over three years, held five events, and highlighted nearly 60 young leaders at Brock; over the years, I have been able to see how each of these individuals have grown professionally and personally,” said Zowmi. “It was a pleasure to have been part of their development, and to create a platform that not only gave these young people space to share their experiences in an environment that is otherwise dominated by professors and academics, but also provided peer-to-peer engagement for attendees.”
Ultimately, the experience showed Zowmi her passion for community building and how her existing talents and skills made the field well-suited for her. As an ambitious youth who had a dream of pursuing science and medicine, this was not a revelation she took lightly.
“Being a part of the team building BrockU Talks helped me understand my passion for community building and prompted my career switch from planning for a career in medicine to continuing my work in community development. This was a particular low for me — recognizing that what I was studying was not what I was passionate about, I now had to create a new career plan after discarding the path I had planned on taking for nearly a decade,” said Zowmi.
Unfortunately, this turning point for Zowmi was not the only obstacle she has faced.
“I grew up in a post-9/11 world. Being a young Muslim woman in a world of Islamophobia, coupled with being a low-income daughter of immigrants to Canada, presented a struggle for the formative years of my life. This, in addition to the media sensationalism that portrayed Muslims in a negative light, contributed to my altered perception of the world,” said Zowmi. “I found myself to be in the midst of an identity crisis: how could the world be telling me I am one thing — unequal due to my race, unjust due to my religion — but my internal compass telling me I was not? I was put in a position to not allow myself to be subjected to what society or the media defined me.”
This experience led Zowmi to her co-creation approach to finding solutions for problems faced by vulnerable populations.
“Influenced by my constant questioning of society’s definitions of people, I utilized my own experience and frustration in shaping my identity to inspire other young people to do the same. I vowed to dedicate my career to leveraging the voices and experiences — especially adverse experiences and backgrounds — of young people to co-create solutions to the world’s problems,” said Zowmi. “I believe in co-creating solutions to problems with the direct beneficiaries of such measures, rather than imposing solutions on vulnerable populations: this conviction stems from my lived experience as a young person who has rarely had the opportunity to inform policies by which I am directly affected. It was because of this lived experience that I wanted to leverage the voices of young people — often the most marginalized — to advocate for measures that engage and consider young people. This includes my work in the Prevention of Violent Extremism, but also my other advocacy work, including at the Youth 20 Summit in Cordoba, Argentina this past summer, as a Youth Advisor to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, as well as a Youth Representative to the UN DPI-NGO Youth Representatives Steering Committee.”
Zowmi’s work, though already extensive at such a young age, is just beginning. Following this degree, she plans to obtain a second Master’s degree in Peace, Sustainability and Conflict Resolution.
“I will harness my personal experiences as a marginalized individual to ensure that policies and processes for youth representation across the globe is equitable, structurally combating the institutionalized privilege of certain identities over others,” said Zowmi. “Following this, I hope to engage in peace building and mediating conflict resolution across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, harnessing both my formal scholarship in social justice and equity studies, as well as my passion for youth representation and engagement, to equip young people across the MENA Region to become advocates for peace, justice, and sustainability.”