Bayan Galal said that she won the election to become the first Arab to serve as president of Yale’s student government by addressing important issues such as health and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), not by shying away from her Arab and Muslim identity.
The 19-year-old was elected as president of Yale College Council in May while her running mate and fellow female student Zoe Hsu was elected as vice president, the first time an Arab had led the YCC in its 320-year history.
Galal pointed out that her focus on health addressed student concerns about COVID-19 and the manner in which the pandemic had impacted teaching and study procedures at the school.
During an interview on Wednesday on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, Galal noted that her campaign slogan, “Building a Healthier Yale,” had resonated with Yale students.
“It definitely was not an easy task. We basically had one week to campaign. This election took place at the end of the last academic year, so in May of 2021,” Galal added.
“In this campaign, we had a platform of building a healthier Yale, that was our campaign slogan. Within that we had five central pillars of health that we broke our platform down into. And so, it was physical health, mental health, community health, academic health, and financial health.
“So, we broke it down into these different areas of health that we wanted to focus on to show that we would take a holistic approach to health at Yale and really address the wide range of issues that students were facing.”
Election results at Yale show that Galal won 56.4 percent of the vote with Hsu not far behind. The two had previously served on the YCC, Yale’s student government, with Galal previously serving as the health and COVID-19 chair.
Galal, whose parents are Muslim immigrants from Egypt, wears a hijab and believes that the key to success is educating and informing mainstream Americans about Arab culture and concerns.
She said her Arab and Muslim identity did surface in the election but was positive and did not hinder her election, contributing to her being embraced by the majority of student voters.
And she used her Arab identity to also connect with the concerns of students of color at Yale, demonstrating that she would fight for their rights as well as the rights of all students.
“My identity is something I have not shied away from at all. And I think that because I have been so open about it, and also simultaneously willing to answer the questions that people have; you know, discuss the misconceptions that people will have and things like that.
“I think being willing to consistently have that dialogue and engage with others and just be there as an accessible person to the student body has been an important part of that,” Galal said.
Double majoring in molecular biology and global affairs, and minoring in pre-med, Galal hoped that her tenure would be marked by using her experiences as an Arab Muslim and as a student concerned about the well-being of others to impact other schools that look toward Yale for guidance.
“I think that in this role, in this institution, Yale is a critical placed institution that has the ability to impact a lot of the decisions that are made, to impact the trajectory of a lot of other schools that look to it as an example.
“I think that when you have a student body president who is now finally Arab, it allows Yale to take this direction where it cannot only impact the trajectory of Yale but also hopefully impact other schools as well,” she added.
Galal said that Yale had a small Arab student population of “a couple of hundred … definitely a small community but also a close-knit one.”
In August last year, she founded the Muslim Affinity Network serving as its director to enhance the representation of Muslims on the YCC.