Student Story

Merging a Scholarly Stance with Lived Experience

Reham Zeroual Photo

“Simmons has provided me with the platform and support to take on leadership roles and drive meaningful change.”

An interview with Reham Zeroual ’24

What are the most impactful things you have done over the last four years?

Reflecting on my time at Simmons University, I am particularly proud of my role as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair on the Senate during the 2022–2023 academic year. Although I wasn't able to witness the full implementation of our plans, I am grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to shaping a more equitable future for BIPOC students in our community. Our efforts involved advocating for required trigger warnings for sensitive classroom content, initiating discussions with faculty to establish a more accessible bias-reporting system, collaborating with affinity organizations to create an inclusive religious and cultural holiday calendar, and developing a template for a climate/culture survey at the beginning of each semester to inform Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies. Additionally, I proposed universal grading rubrics for certain assignments to ensure fairness in grading for all students.

I also take pride in the collective organizing efforts I participated in alongside fellow student activists regarding the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people. Through walk-outs, sit-ins, rallies, and teach-ins, we aimed to raise awareness about human rights violations abroad and encourage our community to take appropriate action.

Did your course of study entail any internship opportunities?

I had the privilege of interning with Cambridge City Council member Quinton Zondervan during my sophomore year and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley during my junior year. These internships proved to be profoundly influential in my personal and academic development. Engaging in immersive learning experiences, I gained invaluable insights into congressional operations and the legislative process. These opportunities provided me with hands-on exposure to a range of office management tasks, including constituent services, scheduling, administrative duties, press and communications, and legislative policy.

Please explain the research that you pursued at Simmons.

During my last semester at Simmons, I pursued a senior thesis project centered on the intricate construction of Algerian post-colonial identity, rooted in the violent legacy of occupation. It examines how colonial experiences have left enduring psychological scars on Algerian collective consciousness, and explores the intergenerational transmission of trauma. The study reveals how colonialism has shaped contemporary Algerian mental and emotional landscapes, while also showcasing the resilience ingrained in Algerian culture through artistic expressions, language, and traditions that resisted colonial dominance. Through oral histories and archival materials, it unveils the mechanisms of resistance that preserved indigenous identity and fostered the emergence of hybrid cultural expressions. By tracing the evolution of post-colonial narratives, the analysis demonstrates how trauma and resistance intertwine to shape new identities reflective of both historical wounds and the transformative power of cultural resilience.

Tell us about your unique experience as a first-generation college student.

My journey as a first-generation college student can only be described as bittersweet. I am forever grateful for the opportunity, yet I often feel like I’m playing catch-up compared to my peers who have familial guidance. Instead, I’ve learned to seek support from others who share similar experiences. Without the comfort of understanding at home, I found solace and empathy among fellow first-gen students who faced comparable challenges. It took time for me to recognize my own intelligence and capabilities, as being a first-gen student entails constantly reminding oneself of belonging and adequacy. At Simmons University, this meant seizing every resource and opportunity available, fueled by the fear that it might be my last chance. Every classroom entry became an opportunity to prove myself to my community, striving to leave better than I arrived. My first-gen experience has been about maintaining awareness and finding solidarity among fellow first-gen students navigating Simmons just as I am.

What was your favorite course at Simmons and why?

At Simmons University, two of my standout courses were “The Black Freedom Movement: From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter” with Assistant Professor Tatiana Cruz and “Philosophy Through Literature and Film” with Professor Wanda Torres Gregory. These classes were not only the most captivating and demanding but also instrumental in guiding my academic interests. Dr. Cruz’s course skillfully intertwined my passion for history with a critical examination of intersectional identities. Meanwhile, Professor Torres Gregory’s class equipped me with the ability to apply theoretical frameworks to diverse literary and cinematic works. Engaging with literature and film outside of my usual preferences allowed me to delve into deeper levels of reflection and understanding.

Who was your most inspirational professor or mentor at Simmons and why?

At Simmons University, Dr. Cruz stands out to me as the most inspiring professor and mentor. I hold immense admiration for her. Dr. Cruz not only cultivated a supportive atmosphere but also challenged her students to enhance themselves academically and as contributors to the Simmons community. Thanks to her guidance, I can confidently say that I’ve become a better writer, public speaker, and individual. Every time Dr. Cruz began class, I felt a sense of excitement and gratitude, knowing that I would gain new knowledge. She reignited my passion for education and reaffirmed why I am grateful for the opportunity to study at Simmons University.

What is your favorite Simmons memory?

One of my most cherished memories at Simmons is the day I met Laura-Luiza in Dr. Cruz’s “Popular Black Culture” course during my first semester on campus after quarantine. After an extended period of isolation, I found it challenging to reconnect and socialize as I once did. However, Laura-Luiza and a handful of others on campus immediately made me feel at ease, transforming Simmons into a place that felt like home. Every moment spent with her and our friends in the Multicultural Center or common areas felt like a breath of fresh air after being in solitude for so long. With countless memorable moments shared, it’s difficult to pinpoint just one, as each contributes to the tapestry of cherished memories I carry with me.

How has Simmons taught you to be a leader?

Simmons University has been instrumental in shaping me into a confident and effective leader. Throughout my time at Simmons, I’ve learned that leadership extends beyond formal titles and positions; it's about recognizing opportunities to enact positive change and taking the initiative to address them. One significant aspect of my leadership development at Simmons has been my ability to identify areas for improvement within the university community and to actively engage in initiatives to bring about positive shifts. Whether it was advocating for better resources for marginalized students, initiating discussions on diversity and inclusion, or leading efforts to enhance campus sustainability practices, Simmons has provided me with the platform and support to take on leadership roles and drive meaningful change. Through these experiences, I’ve honed my skills in communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, equipping me with the tools to be an effective leader both on campus and beyond.

What advice do you have for current and incoming Simmons students?

For current and incoming Simmons students, my advice is to prioritize building a support network of individuals who truly feel like home. College can be a challenging and stressful time, filled with academic pressures, personal transitions, and moments of uncertainty. Having a circle of friends, mentors, and allies who genuinely understand and support you can make all the difference. Seek out people who not only share your interests and values but also provide comfort and encouragement during times of stress and anxiety. These connections can revive your spirits, offer perspective, and remind you that you're not alone in facing life's challenges. Whether it’s classmates, professors, or members of campus organizations, cultivating meaningful relationships with those who uplift and empower you is essential for your well-being and success at Simmons and beyond.