The Zilkha Center is excited to welcome Firas Shennib (‘15), the new Assistant Director of the Davis Center, to campus. The ZC and DC collaborate on a number of projects, including the EphVenture program, Root. Firas is a Williams alum (‘15) and as a student participated in Bridges, a precursor to Root. We are looking forward to working with Firas to co-lead Root and host other programming at the intersection of social identity, the environment, and justice.
Christine Seibert, ZC Sustainability Coordinator, connected with Firas about his new role. Make sure you say hi to Firas next time you see him around campus!
Please introduce yourself for our audience – what do you want people to know about who you are?
My name is Firas Ali Shennib (he/him), and I’m a Williams Alum of the Class of 2015. I was a secondary school teacher for seven years before accepting my current position as the Assistant Director of the Davis Center. I taught many subjects including Mathematics, Science, History, English, and Islamic Studies. I’m also a video game enthusiast and a reader of fantasy and sci-fi.
Which part(s) of your role at the DC are you most excited for?
As cliche as it sounds, I enjoy getting to know students the most! My role requires me to think a great deal about supporting and providing inclusive and intersectional programming, but I look forward the most to engaging with students during great events or having stimulating conversations with them afterwards about the ways in which our work and learning might better inform and guide our actions in creating a more equitable and just future. That work is taxing and tiring, but it can also be fun and fulfilling when done together as a community. I guess, in that sense, I look forward to becoming an active and helpful participant in an ever more inclusive and equitable community.
Tell us about Bridges and how it informs your interest in or approach for Root
Bridges was a fascinating program which took students who, at least in 2010, were remarkably unfamiliar with the language of social justice and equity work, and it placed us students in proximity with each other, of remarkably diverse backgrounds, and opportunities for thinking about the ways in which we act as a bridge between our various identities and our surrounding community. We visited a commune, learned about sustainable living, did fun team-building exercises, talked about our different backgrounds, and got in trouble playing cards too late at a hotel. It was an odd and wonderful experiment as an EphVenture, and I’m happy to see Root is doing great as its successor program. When thinking about Root, I want to make sure that element of spontaneity and organic community building is as present as it can be.
How do you see DEI & sustainability as values in your own life?
That’s a tricky question. Growing up as a Muslim in America after 9/11, I was taught to always be prepared to explain to an antagonistic or uncharitable audience or questioner the value of my identity, my beliefs, and my community. It was part of my education to be able to answer attacks on Islam and the Muslim community, in this country and globally. I never thought of that as DEI work, but I found that the mindset of trying to teach and preach empathy, calling for equity, and hoping for (but usually not finding) inclusion is part of me. Sustainability is something I have always been called to because of the nature of my background; my family and extended family did not grow up wealthy, suffice it to say. Consuming less for many people in the world is not a choice. It is the reality of deprivation. Sustainability is tied into habits I acquired growing up, but I am still learning ways it should apply in my day-to-day and into my work since my position now is so far removed from my ancestors.
What’s one thing about you that would surprise others to know (/ a fun fact)?
I helped organize a Super Smash Bros. Melee and League of Legends tournament when I was a student on campus and won them both. I’m also told I have an uncanny ability to guess the kind of car people drive – ask me next time we meet!