Fatimah Muhammad, a 2006 College graduate and former associate director of Penn’s Greenfield Intercultural Center, is running for state representative of the 188th District — an area that circles almost all of University City. She is running against the 27-year incumbent James Roebuck Jr. in the April Democratic primaries.
Muhammad sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian at her South 52nd Street office to discuss her ongoing campaign and how her time at Penn helped steer her into politics.
The Daily Pennsylvanian: How did your experience as a Penn undergraduate and with the GIC lead you to run for office?
Fatimah Muhammad: Well, I’ve always been a bridge builder. As a student at Penn, I got a taste for coalition building; I got a taste for what it means to do things on a large scale. We were some of the students who pushed for the cultural diversity requirement in the curriculum in the College, pushed for additional recruitment for minority students and faculty. But we were also really big about having powerful conversations about people coming together. Then, in my role as associate director [of GIC], I got to support students in co-curricular programs, I advised student organizations and I got an opportunity to teach as well, which is terrific.
DP: Education is a major aspect of your platform. What perspective do you take on education in your district?
FM: I’m really pushing the notion that there is a lot to fight in the state around higher education. There’s a major conversation going on about quality education, quality schools, and I believe that high-quality education makes engaged citizens. It’s quite interesting that there are high schools in West Philadelphia where very few, if any, of those students even come to Penn. It doesn’t have to be that way. So we need to come together and really have hard conversations about what we need for that to be so.
DP: As state representative, what types of measures would you take to engage both students and the public with local political issues, such as education reform?
FM: I think that it has already begun. I believe that even through my campaign, I’m engaging Penn students. I think that there are folks who may not be interested in politics but are passionate about community change, and they should be thinking about politics and how to get involved. There are a lot of hot topics in education reform right now, but I’m not sure how aware students are of all these issues. So part of the role a state representative can play is educating folks about what is happening.
DP: How would you engage directly with Penn?
FM: I think it’s just establishing an open line of communication. There are several great groups at Penn who are already getting involved. Really, I believe the key is starting first with students who are interested, then having them work as the foot soldiers who continue organizing people around their campus and community. But it also has a lot to do with visibility as a representative. From the beginning, you want to make it known that your state rep is available; there’s something to be said about being visibly engaged.
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