Bayan Galal: Yale's First Arab Student Government President
By: Omar Mansour / Arab America Contributing Writer
Yale University is the third-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, established 320 years ago in 1701. Part of a select group of private, mostly out of reach institutions for many, one might be inclined to gamble on Yale having had at least a single Arab president of student government in Yale’s three-century history. At the start of this year, one would lose that gamble. However, history was made this year, and on May 2nd, 2021 Egyptian-American Bayan Galal secured 56 percent of the student body vote for Yale College Council President, making her the first Arab and Muslim in the university’s 320-year history to assume the student government presidency.
Bayan Galal is an Egyptian-American, born and raised in Connecticut. She is a rising Junior at Yale on the pre-med track, double-majoring in Molecular Biology and Global Affairs and minoring in Global Health Studies. Speaking to Arab America, Galal tells her story.
Bayan Galal: YCC Senator and Covid-19 Policy Director
Bayan Galal is by no means a stranger to student leadership. Before launching her campaign for YCC president, she was a YCC Senator and oversaw programs such as a STEM mentorship program for minority students, among other policy-related initiatives for student benefit. She went further and became the Covid-19 policy director of the YCC’s policy branch – there had been no such position before. She oversaw two very impactful programs during her time as Covid-19 policy director. One was working with Yale Health to secure reimbursements of up to $120 for remote students off-campus to get Covid testing every single week. Galal says she felt “there was a very clear disparity [between] the access that people had to go get testing because it was on campus…and those off-campus”.
The second program was that Gala and her team were able to secure PPE kits for students living off-campus but in New Haven. She states, “This again came from a disparity I observed where there was a wide range of students living in a New Haven somewhere on campus, such as the dorms, whereas others were off-campus in apartments. Those who were on campus in dorms received these large PPE kits at the start of the semester, but those who were in apartments did not. So we worked with the Dean’s office to make sure that the off-campus students got all the same resources”.
For Galal, the policy work, the health initiatives and the tangible impact of her work were exactly hot all the right boxes and she was exactly where she wanted to be. Policy work was where she felt at home, she says that with it “I had found my place in the YCC”. Policy work and a focus on health were what brought her to the YCC in the first place. This is important, as one of the largest factors guiding her in this direction are her experiences and identity as an Arab.
Commenting on her Arab identity as a foundation for this path, Galal tells Arab America :
“My Egyptian identity has been one of the most important parts in shaping my interests today. I traveled a lot back and forth between the U S and Egypt and something that…stood out to me a lot of the times was a stark contrast in the healthcare and health services that my family was afforded in the United States versus in Egypt. As I spent more and more time in Egypt, I was able to notice how things like political infrastructure and international development were actually impacting the healthcare that people received. So I was able to see how none of these factors really act in isolation. I think Egypt was the biggest factor that really taught me…me how critical these different factors are. It really spurred this interest in politics, in international relations – and development, specifically… that ultimately bled into my other interests of medicine, science and healthcare. That led me to really be interested in both medicine and global health simultaneously“Bayan Galal
The work that Bayan Galal has done is amazing, as it truly addresses the inequity that public health ought to be focusing on 24/7. Since the beginning of the pandemic, too many have been faced with the harsh truth that health systems and all manner of political institutions, both globally and domestically, do not hold the well being of people and communities as their highest priority. This writer is confident in saying that these policy initiatives of Galal’s, what should have been basic university policy – an incredibly wealthy private university – would not have happened on their own without the push from below, that being Bayan Galal.
The confidence she gained from the successful results of her reimbursement and PPE Kit campaigns, and the desire to continue this work on a larger scale as a leader is what led her to run for YCC President.
Bayan and her running mates decided to run under the campaign of building a healthier Yale. She tells Arab America,
“It was meant to allude to a lot of different things. It was supposed to tap into the idea that a lot of my past work and experiences of delivering results to the student body were in healthcare. It was also tapping into the idea that we had all just gone through, and we’re continuing to go through, Covid-19 and the pandemic together, and that we wanted to emphasize healthcare. Finally, it was meant to emphasize that health is not something we view in a unilateral way, It’s something that we see to be really multifaceted. To that end, we broke our platform into five pillars of health – physical health, mental health, academic health, financial health, and community health”.
Those pillars were then broken down into a series of policies that they wanted to pursue towards achieving each of these branches of health, with the idea of taking a holistic approach to health at Yale, and really emphasize all of these different areas. Their policy platform ended up being an impressive 30 pages long.
With the platform made, the next step was to put together a campaign team, and they only had one week to actually execute their campaign. Bayan ended up with a team of about 30 people helping with graphic design, social media, website design, canvassing and phone banking, and large-scale, public student debates. Seven days to show the student body what you had already done, what you had planned, and why you’re the right choice. Suffice to say, it was a thrilling and exhausting week for Galal, especially since it was during Ramadan as well. At the end of the seventh day, right before midnight, Bayan and her team got the call that they had won, and it got very loud.
When asked if the national politics surrounding Covid found their way into the elections, Galal says they did not, and even if they did, her record spoke for itself and contributed to her win. Her support was “a testament to my ability to deliver tangible results to the student body” As we know, In this critical time, the student body had already witnessed her ability and desire to deliver Covid-19 testing reimbursements and PPE Kits. “I used that to show that I’m someone who in times of difficulty will step up and will be willing to lead and take charge and deliver those results”.
Galal also states that the Arab Student Association (ASA) and the general Yale Arab student community showed up in greater numbers to assist her during her campaign.
Gala says, “There was someone who the community could back that like looked like them and was willing to advocate for them and things like that”. In addition to her main campaign team, of course, Arab students and the ASA were very willing to take up the work of the campaign and drum up support and votes for Galal from as many people as they could. “I think that there was this sense of excitement and willingness to help from a lot of Arab students on campus because they saw that it as a moment for the community… we actually had that collective win, which felt like a win for the entire community.”
As Galal largely credits to her win, her record speaks for itself, and there is no doubt that both she and her policy work as YYC President will be successful and impactful. Closing out, Galal had a message to her community,
“A message to other people who may be in this position, particularly other Arab-Americans, and especially to my fellow like Arab women: go for it, take our identity and take what people call weakness and turn it into our strength”. She stressed that while this may be an exciting success story now, there were certainly many difficulties and much doubt that came with it.
Having gone through this now, she says that, “even with those difficulties and thoughts that do come along the way, I always encourage everyone to take that leap, especially Arab woman, but also for other POC’s and people of marginalized backgrounds in general to not let the fear stop them from pursuing what they want, because once you do take that leap, it has the potential to have really exciting effects that can also have a ripple effect on other people as well”.
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