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Yannina Casillas-2012 Recipient

Yannina Cassilas 150x150Yannina Casillas

Major: Law
Degree: JD
School: UC Hastings College of the Law
Sponsor:Muslim Public Affairs Council 

 

I was born in Merced, California as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. I grew up in the small city of Moreno Valley just outside Riverside, California, At fourteen I was in a carjacking and shot in the abdomen at point-blank range.  This life changing moment has shaped the rest of my life. I am fortunate to be alive.  Since this event I have been determined to advocate for disadvantaged communities and become involved in community service.

As a Mexican-American convert to Islam and a first-generation college student I faced many unique challenges while attending UCLA. In the beginning of my college career I was struggling to keep up with my peers academically. To address the anti-Muslim sentiments on campus, I partnered up with Professor Susan Plann and co-created the first seminar and curriculum that addressed the Muslim student experience at UCLA. I used school resources to educate the general student population on the diversity of the Muslim community.

In addition, as the Vice President of the Muslim Student Association I was a part of a coalition of diverse student advocacy groups on campus that included the Black, Asian Pacific, American Indian, Queer, Latino, South East Asian, and Pacific Islander Students. Together we put on workshops and rallies raising awareness of the lack of diversity in the student population, tuition hikes, a diversity component for General Educational requirement, and racial/religious tolerance on campus.

My experiences at UCLA have given me the opportunity to assist the greater Los Angeles community through various projects in the Community Programs Office and the Student Initiated Access Center. Such as Mentors for Academic and Peer Support where I tutored and peer advised students in Jordan High School in Watts. Also, as a volunteer for the Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project (IYTP) I tutored incarcerated students to attain a GED and apply to college.  These projects provided a greater context of the struggles these youth face, many of whom are of Latino and African American descent. IYTP in particular gave me the opportunity to address the issue of violent crimes proactively by going weekly and talking about their stories and sharing mine.

I was involved with UCLA’s student government as the undergraduate representative and Vice Chair of the Student Fee Advisory Committee.  I oversaw the allocation of $35,000,000 of student registration fees to assist students in non-academic services. I provided support to child care services. Increased the compensation for student leaders in the retention committee, focused on helping dismissed students at UCLA return, a majority of whom where first-generation or low income students.   In addition, I helped develop BruINTENT the nation’s first program to bring scholarships to homeless UCLA students.

As a Coro alumnus I was part of the nation’s oldest leadership training organization. The Coro Fellowship in public affairs is a nine month graduate program focused on experiential learning in the major sectors of public affairs; Business , Government , Non-Profit, and Labor.

Law school will allow me to utilize both my personal and academic experiences to add a different perspective to public service and law. It will enable me to gain the skills needed to be an advocate for victims and to transform their stories to empower others to make a difference.

Message to ISF and Donors:
JazakAllahkhair for giving me the opportunity to become part of the ISF and greater Muslim community. Since converting to Islam I have been overwhelmed by the dedication of our community to serve the greater needs of those around them. I take pride in being a part of this community and strive to do what I can to help others as the Prophet (pbuh) has done for us and future generation. With your scholarship, I will be able to take out less loans and pay for my books. Thanks to this I will be one step closer to demonstrating to the larger American community what Muslim leadership is all about. Again, I thank you for allowing me to be one step closer to accomplishing my goals for the betterment of the Muslim and greater American community.

Update:
Yannina graduated in 2015 and works at CAIR-CA as the Statewide Legislative & Government Affairs Coordinator.

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