Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: Corvallis School Board member and educator encourages human connection

Sami Al-AbdRabbuh emerged from a long hallway with an apologetic smile on his face.

“I’m sorry, I have an urgent meeting, I hope it will be done in 20 or 25 minutes,” said Al-AbdRabbuh.

Sami Al-AbdRabbuh is the Interim Care and Conduct Coordinator and Arabic Cultural and Language Adviser at INTO OSU in the International Living-Learning Center, a building designed to promote a sense of community amongst international students.

He’s also an engineer, former (and potential future) political candidate, Corvallis School Board member, educator and Peer Leadership Adviser at OSU, host of “Chariots of Curiosity” on KBVR, and PhD candidate. He is currently writing a book, as well.

“If you see my calendar, it will be overwhelming and colorful, but I do work a lot. As long as I’m not sleeping, I’m either working or I have scheduled fun-time,” said Al-AbdRabbuh. “Sometimes I work 60 [hours], sometimes 80, even.”

While he said he’s been accused of spreading himself too thin, he takes inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci in his ability to handle so many endeavors simultaneously saying that he’s driven by “passion and curiosity and media and invention.”

In a short walk on the OSU campus, at least five people approached Al-AbdRabbuh, in addition to several phone calls, each receiving an enthusiastic response; it was clear that he’s passionate about people.

“Finding the highest or deepest value I can give to the community… Everyday I’m waking up, I think what is the deepest and highest value that I can use my time in,” he said.

Although Al-AbdRabbuh was born in Tuscon, Ariz., his mother is a Syrian refugee and his father is Saudi. He spent most of his childhood outside of the U.S., including Bahrain, which he left after witnessing government repression of protests.

His mother’s experience as a refugee contributed to Al-AbdRabbuh’s motivation to be an advocate for others.

“I feel very fortunate I had someone there, many people around her helping her out, and she’s safe now… I can only imagine someone here feeling vulnerable,” said Al-AbdRabbuh. “We are one family, and I believe in the idea that borders are superficial. The only connection we have is the human connection. So when I see someone vulnerable and I see them without the power or the rights that I have, there is only one moral duty, it is to make sure they get access to what they need and have honorable living.”

Al-AbdRabbuh’s knowledge of history and his experience in Bahrain informed his current positions as solemn, yet proactive.

“I read history, I saw the uprising in Bahrain, I saw how it impacted the community, so I see it only necessary to really rise up and speak up whenever it’s needed,” he said.

Even with all of his self-proclaimed privilege as an educated U.S. citizen, Al-AbdRabbuh has still experienced and witnessed oppression in his time here.

“I am Muslim in America and it’s not really quite beautiful. If I tell you about some concepts, very honorable concepts, they have been whitewashed for 30 years now, where you’ll say ‘woah, that’s a concept that I think is un-American,’ just because how the media is presenting you what you know about us.”

Echoing what many people involved with underrepresented communities say, Al-AbdRabbuh has felt unable to speak about his culture at times.

“It’s unfortunate. Sometimes I can’t speak up about my heritage, about my faith, about the ideals that I live by, because they’ve been whitewashed. Or they’ve been, in the words of one of the students: ‘there have been propaganda that did not allow us to connect with each other.’ I either can be silent, or be respectful and gentle but still vocal. I chose the latter,” said Al-AbdRabbuh.

Al-AbdRabbuh had a message for people who feel threatened or unsafe in the current climate.

“This is your home. If it takes me to my last breath to make you feel this is your home, this is your home… Even if you’re visiting here and you’re coming here for your degree, or if you’re a son or a daughter of an immigrant, or if you’re an immigrant yourself, if you have documentation or not, I want you to speak up,” said Al-AbdRabbuh. “And maybe speaking up is a danger or is a risk, that’s true, but find someone who you can trust. Find a community that could listen to you. Not necessarily a community that looks like you only, maybe you can start with that.”

Although Al-AbdRabbuh stressed the importance of remaining safe, he expressed the belief that people can benefit from reaching beyond their typical comfort zone, relating this to his own experiences. He added that he feels it is the responsibility of people with rights and power to reach out to those who do not have the same access.

“If you’re not speaking to anyone else other than yourself, then you’re not in the community that you need to be at. I’ve made that call sometimes, too… change my friend group, change the community I live in because I felt like that. And now I feel I belong because I can connect with everyone,” said Al-AbdRabbuh. “Trump supporters who have all the ideals– or some of the ideals that contradict with my beliefs, some of the preconceptions about Muslims or Arabs that’s totally different from what I believe, but I try to find something that I can connect with them where they can trust me and I can trust them in our encounters.”

Al-AbdRabbuh is committed to building communication and connections between communities.

“If you’re a Latina, or you’re a Muslim, or if you’re Transgender, and something is going on for you, don’t only speak with those who you feel at ease with, maybe push your boundaries a little bit beyond with people who you could still feel safe with, but they might listen you to. They might empathize with you. Right now, we’re building huge silence. The wall I worry about is not the wall on our southern border, the walls I worry about are the walls between our communities that is building silence between each other,” said Al-AbdRabbuh.

Story and Photo by K. Rambo

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