It’s a raw Sunday evening as I stroll out of Butler to meet Yasmeen Abdel-Majeed (CC’ 18). While wintry chills might encumber the fashion of some, she seems unaffected, smiling beamingly as she glides towards me on a red micro-scooter and scarlet suede boots, soft leopard-print cloak and sleek coat. Abdel- Majeed is someone with a surrounding air of unmistakable warmth, equally noticeable to her close friends as it is to a someone who first meets her. It’s not long before we’re promenading down College Walk in search of a suitable spot while talking about her apartment, her life in general, and her roommate’s cat—who, she assures me, is not at all fettered or foppishly feline.
Abdel-Majeed is a history major, specializing in the late modern Middle-East, though she tells me some of her favorite classes have been in other departments, such as “Israeli-Palestinian Politics and Societies or Archaeology and Enlightenment— “I had no idea archaeology could be contentious and dramatic.” She hails from London, where she plans to return after graduation after her brief tour of the States. “I applied to America not expecting to actually come,” she tells me, “and applied ED to Columbia because I’m such a disorganized person I wanted to have my Common App done by November. I never thought I’d get in! Also, I really wanted to come. I’m so happy here; it’s such a sick place,” she adds. “I’ve never had a professor who didn’t inspire me.”
In addition to academics, Abdel-Majeed is also heavily involved in extracurriculars. Her favorite thing about Columbia is that “a chunk of the population cares about shit. A lot of people here are politically aware, are always committed, and I think it’s expected of people that they have some sense of justice.” Abdel- Majeed is currently an Editor for the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism (CJLC), works part-time for non-profit legal organization called the Urban Justice Center, and organizes for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “I’ve been a part of SJP for almost four years now,” she tells me. “We’re a very active chapter; I think this campus is not typical of a normal U.S. campus in that the issue of Palestine is very relevant and very visible here. We hold a lot of events and we make ourselves known: for example, when we put that [divestment] resolution to CCSC last year which they unfairly shut down and censored, that made a lot of noise; every year we put up our mock apartheid wall on Low Steps and that’s a way for campus to engage with us.” When I ask her about the challenges SJP receives from other groups on campus, she expresses frustration, but adds “the fact that pro-Israel groups devote so many resources to combatting SJP means we must be doing good work.”
“I don’t think the antagonism [between the two sides] will dim,” she continues, “but one thing I don’t like about it is that it maybe sends a message to campus for people who don’t know about [the issue] that’s it one of those ‘two sides to every story’ type of thing. Either people see all the drama and the complications and don’t want to get involved, or they think that it’s just a conflict between two nation states as opposed to understanding the reality of the situation: it’s a settler colonial state with resources and an army versus a stateless people living under the longest military occupation in modern history. And so I feel sometimes like I don’t know how to navigate this narrative cause when one day you walk into campus and there’s an SJP installation on Low, and the next week you see a huge Students Supporting Israel (SSI) banner, the implications of that are of two equal nations on a level playing field.” She concludes her commentary by encouraging everyone to sign Columbia University Apartheid Divest’s current divestment petition.