As Superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast, CAS senior and RA Rashida Kamal was playing Taboo on a tiled and uncomfortable hallway in Broome Street residential college with her other 10th floor residents. Hours later, as lights flickere
d out in one residence hall after another and thousands of students flocked to the Kimmel Center for University Life to seek refuge, the chair of NYU’s Civic Team was brewing ways to help her neighbors.
“It started setting in when the power outage was continuing and continuing, and all of the implications of what that might mean really became more and more real,” Kamal said. “Even [for] those of us who were lucky enough to have Kimmel as a safe haven. Not everyone in our immediate community within blocks had that.”
In the midst of a blackout zone, Kamal facilitated service projects for the NYU community with the help of the Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service and the Office of Civic Engagement. Tending to elderly citizens stranded in high-rise apartment buildings and distributing meals to residents surviving without electricity, heat and running water were simply the beginnings of an ongoing relief effort.
And her service work in the wake of Sandy is only one seed that Kamal has planted in an effort to empower the student body and foster community engagement. Her efforts have sprouted within other leadership roles.
As chair of the Civic Team, Kamal connects students to volunteer opportunities at nonprofit and government agencies in the city. From hosting a Halloween jamboree for Chung Pak Day Care Center kids to a senior prom for the elderly, Kamal and her peers provided outlets for students to become members of a tangible community that is rooted in giving back.
“I love having students realize their potentials,” Kamal said. “That can be really powerful in the context of service because not only do you realize your personal potential, but you realize the potential your own community has and the community that you’re serving.”
Kamal, a second-year RA at Broome, spends more than 20 hours a week leading the residence hall’s service group and aiding students in selecting their majors. When Kamal is not manning her hall of college kids, she is guiding waves of eager prospective students around campus as an admissions ambassador. Despite her fear of public speaking, she views her role as a means to step out of her comfort zone and challenge herself — a goal that she helps others achieve.
And for someone with an exuberant laugh and an endearing smile, it’s hard to imagine she’s secretly an introvert. When she smiles, it is contagious. But when she chuckles, her body shakes with laughter. Even though her teachers have dubbed her quiet and studious, a girl who doesn’t speak up enough in class, she has found more ways than one to advocate for those in need.
“There are pockets of silences from students that don’t necessarily have to be there,” Kamal said. “And I think it’s about making those connections to people who have the resources and the people who want them. Somehow, to me in my mind, that fits into the desire for advocacy.”
Driven by her entrepreneurial spirit, Kamal envisions many different futures for herself, with possible career paths that may lead her to the Peace Corps, Teach for America or law school. But regardless of her future position, Kamal has created channels for the empowerment and projection of muted voices.
“At NYU, it’s a little bit about putting yourself out there and being like, ‘Hey, I kind of want this to happen, can it happen?’” Kamal said. “And pushing through … any minor frictions there might be and realizing that if you have a vision, you can accomplish it.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 13th print edition. Kristina Bogos is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org