Michaela Woodward – Staff Writer
This Gustie of the Week came to Gustavus seeking a welcoming community and a new atmosphere, and that is exactly what she found.
Senior Habeke Bekele was born in Ethiopia before her family moved to Washington D.C. in 2008. Now, she calls both D.C. and Minnesota home.
“I was very adamant about pursuing higher education just because my parents did not, so having that kind of push made me look into liberal arts… making sure I establish a sense of community and a niche within the environment and feel as though I can have the one-on-one engagement and have the personal relationships rather than just being a number at a big school. I was very adamant on just exploring more [and] not just staying on the East Coast, even though it is very beautiful and chaotic. I did want a little bit more of just a calm, quiet, peaceful environment, and I think Gustavus fosters that, and has allowed me to thrive in that community,” Bekele said.
Bekele is pursuing an individualized major in public health policy, but that was not always the plan. As a First-year she intended to pursue biochemistry, but quickly found herself burnt out, which led her to look into other areas of study.
“If you can see my transcript, I can tell you at least one class from… almost each department in this campus. …There was a sense of struggle, but I think looking back it just tells a wonderful story of how I have a very well-rounded curriculum and background,” Bekele said.
Sociology and Anthropology was the path that stuck, until conversations with peers who were studying individualized majors opened Bekele up to that option.
“I was actually intending on majoring in Soc/Anthro. I believed that that was closest to my public health love and at the time I was minoring in Public Health, and so I was very intrigued and still am interested in the human interactions and human behaviors that help foster social norms and things of that sort. But I was having a conversation with one of my peers in the PA office… and she mentioned that she’s doing an individualized major, and here, as a senior, last year, I’m thinking to myself, ‘wow, if only I could do that.’ And so… I said ‘you know what, I’m going to do something I love. It’s okay if I stay one more semester, maybe even make it two!’ I love what I do and I couldn’t be any more proud that I made the switch at [the] last minute possible. Having to go through [the process of applying for an individualized major] has also allowed me to kind of advocate for myself,” Bekele said.
Bridging her passion for public health and her campus involvements, Bekele takes on many roles in her position as a Peer Assistant.
“I think for me is… in anything I do I want to help somebody. I hope to one day get my community health working certificate and just be a liaison for specific diaspora communities and just help to curb different… health related issues that come with misinformation or cultural differences or linguistic differences. And of course that’s a different setting compared to Gustavus, but within this setting I believe that the resources that we have… in the PAs and in the GustieWELL, not only are we leaders, we’re also friends, we’re also advocates, we’re also educators,” Bekele said.
Her colleagues have seen her grow from and fulfill these roles in her time as a PA.
Director of the GustieWELL Laura Herbst-Johnson has advised Bekele as a PA since she joined her junior year.
“I’ve had the pleasure of serving as an advisor to [Bekele] for three years in her role as a Peer Assistant. To say Habeke’s personal growth, leadership and commitment to our community has blossomed over that time would be an understatement. Being able to witness her incredible development and compassion with my own eyes makes my heart so full,” Herbst-Johnson said.
Fellow PA Junior Zach Gbor notes Bekele’s personal attributes that make her successful in this position.
“Habeke is an extremely passionate person. She has great energy and amazing ideas when collaborating with her as a PA,” Gbor said.
Bekele considers the PAs to be her family on campus.
“I think somebody, one of my friends commented and said, ‘Habeke, you look so [much] better, like, you look happier.’ And I said ‘yes, I’ve found my group, I’ve found my community, I found my family.’ It just goes to show that first gen, only child, came from DC, knows nobody in Minnesota – I have no family here – but to be a part of a group like the Peer Assistants, that I call family, and then to actually engage in planning, and having fun education events for students, just makes my heart warm,” Bekele said.
Bekele is also involved in the Pan-Afrikan Student Organization (PASO) and sees that community as a safe space to explore her identity.
“I love my Pan-African brothers and sisters and the community we fostered, and not only like learning about each other, but also our diaspora stories and building a stronger connection on what it means to be a [Person of Color] at a PWI (Predominately White Institution). Being a member of PASO has also helped me and allows me to understand different ways in which race and different issues related to race can be impacting and just having a support family and group of that sort has been very helpful and a really good transition for me,” Bekele said.
Through her time at Gustavus, Bekele has also been involved in the Lucia Singers choir, a CF and a dispatcher with Campus Safety. Her hobbies and outlets include napping, being in nature, and listening to music, all activities that allow her to take time for self-care or to ground herself.
Coming to Gustavus and seeking a community, Bekele found that and more; through her contributions and involvement she is able to continuously work to better the lives of herself and her peers.