Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 8
Ayat's Story, Part II:
Living a College Dream
EdWeek follows up on Ayat Husseini
Last year, Ayat Husseini's college
dream was crumbling. Her father
wouldn't let her leave home to attend
her first-choice school. But now, she's
savoring classes and activities on
the picture-postcard campus of her
The story of how this teenager's college hopes triumphed over her family's fears and objections is at once
unique and universal, an American
tale and an immigrant's journey.
It illuminates the kinds of cultural
hurdles that sometimes prevent-or
threaten to prevent-high-achieving
children from immigrant families
from choosing postsecondary schools
to match their academic promise.
Ayat's tale is peppered with hope,
fear, faith, and courage, and made
possible by the right kinds of help
at exactly the right moments.
When Education Week visited the
Husseini family last December, the
situation was tense. (See Education
Week, Dec. 2, 2015.) Ayat had just
worked up the nerve to tell her parents that she really wanted to leave
their home in New York City to attend Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Her father, Refaat Husseini,
a cook from a small Lebanese village where girls live at home until
marriage, wouldn't hear of it. He
worried: Would she be safe? Would
drugs, alcohol, and mischievous students lead her astray from Islam?
Her mother, Salam Akil, who grew
up in Beirut, was struggling with
her own fears that Ayat would drift
from her religious and cultural roots.
But she wanted to let her try out her
wings, so she was mediating between
her husband and her daughter.
"I have fears of the unknown, but I
never shut the doors, I always kept a
space of light to see, to take the adventure," Akil said of the months of family
talks and college visits that ultimately
allowed Ayat to move away to school.
Those months helped Refaat Husseini feel calmer and more confident
about his daughter's safety as she
ventured from home and convinced
him it was an opportunity she
shouldn't miss. Ayat had other options, in New York City, but one was
a much less selective school, and the
other would have required her to
take a long subway ride into an unsafe neighborhood.
"At first I had to say no, it was too
hard [to let her go]," Husseini said.
"Then I think about her, not about
ourselves. And I want her to get a
better education, a hundred times
better than I had, something to protect herself for the future."
The first part of the process unfolded at home, as Akil worked to
persuade Husseini to consider letting their daughter live in a college
dormitory. She pointed out that even
his brother's daughters, in Lebanon,
left their village to attend college.
She scoured Islamic teachings for
support, reading aloud to him a
quote from the Prophet Muhammad's cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib: "Do
not raise your children the way your
parents raised you; they were born
for a different time." Sometimes
they argued. When he listened quietly, Akil knew there was hope.
Mark Abramson for Education Week
By Catherine Gewertz
Outside the Husseini home, at
Ayat's high school in Queens, her
college counselor was playing a quiet
but powerful role. Lauren Quigley
knew that heavy lobbying was not
the right approach with this family,
although she yearned to see one of
her star students attend her number-one-choice school. So she hung
back, touching base occasionally, but
mostly letting the Husseinis seek
her out when they had questions.
"I was thinking, let's just see if
we can get them up to campus for a
visit. Maybe that will be their epiphany moment," Quigley recalled.
Many of her immigrant students
find that college visits replace their
parents' abstract fears with concrete
information and reassurance.
But Quigley also did something
that proved pivotal in the Husseinis' journey: She called Taaha Mohamedali, Lafayette's coordinator
him, I said, look, if Ayat comes here,
it's going to be ... trusting you with
this special treasure that you must
hold safe for me. I could tell he understood that."
On a walk around campus, Husseini asked about security and safety
and about the job prospects of Lafayette graduates. The parents wanted
to know if halal food, made in compliance with Islamic law, was available.
Mohamedali answered their questions. He was upfront: The Muslim
community at Lafayette is small, but
growing. Halal food was on the runway, but not quite available yet. He
introduced the Husseinis to members
of the campus Muslim Students Association, who discussed their religious
I have fears of the unknown, but I never
shut the doors. I always kept a space of light
to see, to take the adventure."
Mother of Ayat Husseini
of multicultural recruitment. The
Young Women's Leadership School of
Astoria, where Quigley works with a
student population from more than
50 countries, has a long-standing relationship with Lafayette, so Quigley
knew Mohamedali well. She briefed
him on the family's concerns and dynamics, and he offered to meet with
them. To the counselor's delight,
Ayat's parents agreed to visit on an
admitted-students' day in the spring.
As Ayat blended into a sea of student activities on campus, Mohamedali met with her parents. Both Akil
and Husseini said they felt an immediate connection with this young
Muslim who'd grown up in Queens,
where they live. The three chatted
about their shared experiences and
faith, discussing passages from the
Quran. He said he saw his role as
that of listener.
"I asked them what was important to them for Ayat and her development, what makes her special to
them," Mohamedali recalled.
That resonated with Akil. "I told
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 30, 2016 | www.edweek.org
life on campus, their community-service work. Akil noticed and appreciated that several of the women wore
hijabs, or headscarves.
The day was starting to have an
effect on Refaat Husseini.
"We see it's a good college, that she
will be challenged, that she will be
able to do something good over there
for her life," he said. "From that
point, we start to say, OK, maybe we
let her go."
"Talking with Taaha was a turning point," Akil said.
A Decision Takes Shape
Back home in Queens, Husseini
and Akil had many more rounds of
discussion. They felt themselves moving toward letting Ayat go. Small but
significant things fell into place that
eroded the remaining barriers. The
college had already offered a hefty
financial-aid package, but at the
last minute, to help the Husseinis,
it knocked its $700 commitment deposit down to $100. Mohamedali said
there were no guarantees Ayat could
live in a single-sex dorm, but when
she emailed the housing office, she
got a response "within minutes," Ayat
said, saying they'd be happy to save a
place for her in a women's dorm.
"Things were telling us," Akil said.
"It was meant to be."
By the time Ayat sent Lafayette
the deposit, the tables had turned:
Refaat Husseini was reassuring his
wife that the choice was a good one,
that Ayat would flourish, conquer
new challenges, and still carry her
faith and heritage with her. Akil
knew it was true, but the reality of
daily life without her daughter was
setting in. There were tearful days.
Ayat's first few months in college
have been marked by the textbook
joys and sorrows. Trying to juggle
new time-management demands.
Waves of homesickness. Excitement
about her classes and new friends.
Balancing a connection to her family
with a new, healthy separateness.
Phone calls soon became an issue.
Ayat's family was frustrated and
hurt that she didn't call often enough
or was too busy to talk. She wanted
space and independence. They
worked it out, but it was the first bittersweet taste of a new stage of life.
On her own at school now, Ayat
is still struggling with the "culture
shock" of absorbing social, cultural,
and political views very different from
her own. As a Muslim, a Lebanese immigrant, a working-class city girl accustomed to intense diversity, she sees
clearly how different her experience
and views are from those of many of
her classmates on this predominantly
white, affluent campus. She pushes
open her mind's doors to absorb and
respect a tumble of new ideas.
But she's thriving on the differences, the challenges that make her
bigger every day.
"Even the hard parts are highlights," Ayat said, "because there's
absolutely nothing that I'm not
Coverage of the experiences of lowincome, high-achieving students is
supported in part by a grant from the
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, at www.
jkcf.org. Education Week retains sole
editorial control over the content of
Ayat Husseini, right, a
Lebanese immigrant from
New York, hangs out with
Nina Milligan, a fellow
freshman, in Ayat's dorm
room at Lafayette College in
Easton, Pa. A year ago, Ayat
was still working to persuade
her parents to let her leave
home to enroll at Lafayette.
VIDEO: See how Ayat's freshman
year at a Pennsylvania college
is going and how her immigrant
parents back home in New York
City are adjusting to the changes.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 30, 2016
Education Week - November 30, 2016
States Eye Control Of Policy Levers
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Warning Sounded on Tech Disrupting Student Sleep
Anxiety on Civil Rights Enforcement
ACT to Offer ELL Students Extra Time for Testing
News in Brief
Group Urges Higher Standards in Teacher-Prep Admissions
Many Students ‘Stop Out’ of High School, Studies Show
Ayat’s Story, Part II: Living a College Dream
SNAPSHOT: A Divisive Presidential Election Spills Into Schools
Will a President Trump Boost Or Undermine School Choice?
Firm Path on Early Ed. Yet to Emerge
For First Family, Decision Ahead Over Schooling
K-12 Braces for Trump’s Immigration Stance
King Calls for End to Corporal Punishment in Schools
STATE NEWS ROUNDUP: N.J. Proposal Would Boost Superintendents’ Pay Cap Texas Curbs Spec. Ed. Enrollment Benchmark High Court Denies Case on Science Standards
LAURA PERILLE: A Model for Revitalizing Arts Education
ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: On Not Erasing the Native American
LUCAS JACOB: Challenge Hatred
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
EVON PETER: Indigenizing Education in The Arctic
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - ACT to Offer ELL Students Extra Time for Testing
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 2
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 3
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - Group Urges Higher Standards in Teacher-Prep Admissions
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - Many Students ‘Stop Out’ of High School, Studies Show
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - Ayat’s Story, Part II: Living a College Dream
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 9
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 10
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 11
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 12
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - SNAPSHOT: A Divisive Presidential Election Spills Into Schools
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - Firm Path on Early Ed. Yet to Emerge
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - For First Family, Decision Ahead Over Schooling
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - K-12 Braces for Trump’s Immigration Stance
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 17
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 18
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 19
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 20
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - STATE NEWS ROUNDUP: N.J. Proposal Would Boost Superintendents’ Pay Cap Texas Curbs Spec. Ed. Enrollment Benchmark High Court Denies Case on Science Standards
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: On Not Erasing the Native American
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - LUCAS JACOB: Challenge Hatred
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 25
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - 27
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - EVON PETER: Indigenizing Education in The Arctic
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - CW1
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - CW2
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - CW3
Education Week - November 30, 2016 - CW4