“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” -Paulo Freire
Throughout my education at the University of Washington, I prioritized mentorship, inclusion, diversity, and equity among colleagues, co-workers, and students on campus, as well as online gamer communities. As bell hooks once said, it is vital “to sustain ourselves by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.” I developed a community of resistance through mentor leadership so that as a community we may combat social and political realities, especially for those who feel left behind or have been historically marginalized from academia. Rather than simply sharing knowledge, I brought critical frameworks to use within my broader community and transformed our experiences in meaningful ways. My efforts are deeply informed by coursework on digital humanities and critical race theory, dissertation research on affect and emotion, and Middle East area studies. I highly value critical consciousness and have therefore actively participated in building a community beyond the practical and theoretical training in my PhD program. I define leadership as mentorship. Yet, mentorship is more than an exchange of knowledge. Rather, a leader must also provide pathways for actionable change in the lives of the most marginalized.
Empathetic leadership is a key component to mentoring and understanding the needs of others. I have always led with empathy first. My vision and clarity in communication has provided pathways to breaking boundaries and building bridges with many of my colleagues and friends. By understanding that life is complex and oftentimes ambiguous, I have made it a point to make sure that people are seen anytime we interact, communicate, and collaborate. This manifests through acknowledging people’s work, emotional, and intellectual labor in the moment, while providing them clear boundaries so that they feel confident in what they are doing and are not overburdened. I am emotionally adaptable, and therefore I value high affective and cognitive empathy when I lead others. A prime example of this is when I collaborate on a project with colleagues and even mentees. To cultivate compassion and encourage genuine perspective talking, I meet prior to collaboration on platforms or in-person that is preferred for the collaborator. Once meeting people in their preferred comfort zone, we then establish expectations, provide each other critical feedback, and let each other know about our current workload. For me, this is a very basic human skill that is paramount to building true and lasting connections.
Through empathetic leadership skills, I then walk alongside colleagues and/or mentees on their intellectual journey to think about their long-term vision. To accomplish this, we build projects or even create opportunities for discourse and dialogical spaces with clear goals in mind. By thinking together creatively and being persistent despite life’s challenges, we are then able to take strategic and calculated risks together while thinking outside the box. A prime example of this is when I collaborated on a digital project with an undergraduate student. For the digital project, we streamed live on Twitch–a gamer platform—without any streaming experience. We were willing to set aside our own lack of comfortability with the unknown and yet create an online community of 80+ followers who wanted to learn more about how some games come to reproduce misinformation, Islamophobia, and even violent hate speech on Iran, while other games produce empathy and cultural knowledge for the player. Through focus and resilience, we not only overcame our own uncomfortableness, but fostered others to strive for their own success in life, including but not limited applying for jobs and receiving feedback, or building their own platform on Twitch.