From competing on the rugby team to working at the Resource Center, Syed Hussain ’21 is everywhere on campus, applying a calm and enthusiastic approach to everything he does. The Argus Zoomed with Hussain to find out more about memorable moments from Wes, post-grad plans, and his advice to his first-year self.
The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated to be a WesCeleb?
Syed Hussain: I’m really not sure. I think I stay on the [down-low] most of the time around this campus, but I do engage with a lot of different groups so [maybe] something to do with that. I’m in a lot of very different scenes, like the environmental community, but also the rugby team. I try to keep it pretty low-key most of the time, so I was pretty surprised when I got the email.
A: How long have you been on the rugby team? Can you tell us a bit more about that community?
SH: I started my sophomore fall because one of my very good friends is English and loves rugby, so he convinced me to finally join, and it was a really cool community. I love playing, I hadn’t really played any organized sport—definitely not recently. Very physical, I probably have broken a lot of bones and strained a lot of muscles, but it was a super fun community, and getting to travel to Williams and Amherst was just really cool. I enjoyed that a lot. I haven’t played so much in the last year because of COVID-19 and everything. It is quite a time commitment, so since we’re not going to be realistically playing games—which is fine, that totally makes sense—I don’t really want to be practicing for three days a week my senior year.
A: That makes sense. When did you join Alpha Psi Alpha, and when did you become the president?
SH: I was president last year. It was really amazing. I think this is pretty cliché, a lot of people say this, but I would never have expected coming into Wesleyan that I would be involved in Greek life. But my freshman spring, there were a few seniors that really took me under their wing. One of them was an exchange student from Spain in particular, and they were just so kind to me and showed me the ropes of campus and how to get around. At some point they said, ‘Hey, if you want, we feel like that you would fit in with a certain group of people.’ Which is interesting, cause it was actually a Jewish frat in origin. And I grew up Muslim in downtown Atlanta and rural Georgia. So [I had] very little interactions with the Jewish community before I came to Wesleyan. But it was so cool because I found that despite a lot of the stigma—which is totally valid for a lot of concerns about fraternities—there were just really cool people, really nice guys that I could get along with. And I also found, maybe somewhat counter-intuitively, a lot of students of color, a lot of friends at Wes that are not white, I actually found through the fraternity. When I was president, our executive board was a [mostly] minority [students,] which was just really cool. Getting to engage with those different groups of people that I usually wouldn’t [have had the chance to] was amazing, like a lot of different majors, a lot of different sports, non-sports, arts, STEM, government, all the different ranges. We [are] really a small group. I feel like that plays towards our advantage because we just get really tight-knit and build real relationships.
A: Can you tell us about the Green Fund and your role in it?
SH: I love the Green Fund. It’s one of the best things I did here for sure. Since I joined sophomore year, my biggest driving factor was making environmentalism more inclusive and more considerate of anti-racism, feminism, intersectionality overall… Just thinking a lot about how traditionally environmentalism, especially in the U.S., has been an upper-middle-class white movement, at least in the mainstream. And that’s really unfortunate because a lot of the effects of environmental degradation are just disproportionately on communities of color, especially poor communities of color. I think we’ve made some incredible progress on making environmental justice the very definition of sustainability, because I think there is no sustainability without environmental justice.
A: What are you majoring in?
SH: I’m doing government and environmental studies, and I honestly mostly care about the environmental studies side.
A: Have you taken any courses at Wesleyan that stick out to you as particularly memorable?
SH: I’m taking Hindi-Urdu right now, which is really cool because I grew up speaking Urdu. I was actually born in Pakistan, but I’ve always been a little bit shaky in my Urdu. Even though it’s technically my first language, if I spoke to someone from Pakistan, it sounded like I had an American accent, and I don’t really like that. I’ve been trying to work on getting really fluent in that language. We’ve been writing a lot as well, and it’s just so beautiful. This is Hindi, but we’re doing Urdu in the second half of the semester, and it’s a really difficult language to write, but just so fascinating. We’ve gotten to learn a little bit about the culture side too, like watching Bollywood movie clips and stuff like that. So [it’s been] one of my favorite classes, and I’m really glad Wes was offering it. I think it’s very new: like as of last fall they’ve had Hindi and Urdu as part of the language clusters. That’s been really amazing.
I actually will give a quick shout-out to [Visiting Assistant Professor of Animal Studies] Elan Abrell. I took a class called “Liminal Animals” with him a couple of years ago, and this semester I’m in a class called “Saving Animals” with him. He really understands how to be an animal rights advocate without being pretentious or snobby about it. He’ll never lecture someone about their nutrition choices, for example, but he will give you the facts of what is wrong with the animal meat industry and that sort of thing.
A: Do you have any post-grad plans, and has COVID-19 impacted them at all?
SH: I don’t have any confirmed plans yet. I recently decided that I’m not looking for grad school right now. So I think eventually a Master’s in environmental studies or something along those lines, [something] especially related to environmental justice would be interesting for me. Right now, I’m a little bit done with school, just in that, I’d like to get some experience outside of the academic world. It’s the same reason I’m not writing a thesis, along with the fact that I don’t want to do all that right now. I don’t love academia, so I’m not super into the idea of going straight into more academia and [a] Ph.D. route and research and all that. I’m applying around to a lot of environmental orgs, but also anything that sounds interesting and cool to me. I’d like to be in the U.S., but I’m pretty flexible on where. Before I came to Wesleyan I’d never been outside of the Southeast, for the most part, being from Atlanta, and it was an amazing experience being here, so I’m totally open to going somewhere new again.
A: How are you feeling generally about graduating?
SH: It’s definitely bittersweet. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t part of me and some days where I do get sad about some folks that I’m not going to see much again. And especially when I get reminded of like, oh, it’s like 80 days till graduation or something. I’m like, nah, don’t tell me all that. I don’t need to hear that. But at the same time, I know that the connections I’ve made here are very real. I’m looking forward to the next adventure for sure.
A: Do you have any advice for your first-year self?
SH: Just being very deliberate about your time and who you spend it with. Making those real connections that I mentioned before, and also being nice to myself. I think that that can go for pretty much anyone at any point in their lives, but it’s just really hard sometimes. Cause you’ll assume that you are at a certain level, especially academically, but even for me, because I’ve always worked a job or two outside of academics, you assume that you should be able to do a certain amount, and then inevitably, at some point, you will fall a bit short of your high expectations. I think it’s really important to remind yourself that sometimes doing my laundry on a given day is enough, and I can be content for that short amount of time and not be mad at myself about all I didn’t do or all I could have done.
A: How would your friends describe you?
SH: Chill. Chill definitely comes to the top of my mind. That’s the best word I could think of. But just generally being down to earth, I’d like to think, and keeping everything sort of grounded. I love a wide range of topics and talking about really big philosophical things or really niche everyday things. I think in all my conversations, I try to bring everything back to reality and especially ethical, geopolitical topics, which I am very interested in. I don’t like when people keep it distant from what’s going on on the ground. I think my friends would think of [me] as a pretty grounded person.
A: What are some memorable moments from your time at Wes?
SH: That’s a good question. Last spring, right before all this stuff with COVID started to go down, I was playing intramural basketball with some of my friends, some of them from Alpha Psi, actually. And it was actually on that day that we, in the middle of our game, got the breaking news that Kobe Bryant had passed away. And it was just kind of surreal. I think it’s a bit corny and over-spoken about maybe at this point, but he passed away while we were in the middle of an intramural basketball game, which was almost funny, but I guess more cruelly ironic: a very small, low stakes basketball game.
Then we took like 10 minutes on the sideline. I think one of the referees, who are student employees, were like, ‘Hey guys, no disrespect, but we do need to finish this game so I can go home.’ So we finished playing out the game, and I feel like that moment was just kind of big. It predated COVID.
After that, I went on spring break, and I was actually in the Southwest and [with] some friends all from the West, which was an amazing time. In the middle of that spring break, we found out about everything COVID-wise.
So both of these moments, I think, are memorable in a good way, even though there’s a really sort of depressing and darker aura about the situations leading up to it. I like to focus on the positives of it. I got to have an amazing trip to Vegas, Arizona, Utah, Zion National Park—all these things I never really thought I would do. And I got to do that right before the world got hit with the COVID realities. So they’ll always be super memorable.
A: Is there anything else you want to add?
SH: I also work at the Resource Center, and I think [it’s] incredible. My junior year, I had been to some events with them, but I didn’t work there. [Now,] I do spirituality and sustainability work there. And it’s just really awesome. Demetrius Colvin, who leads it—we’ll never have a conversation about anything that’s not tied to equity and justice and thinking about anti-racism and class politics. It’s just an incredible space, and I’m really excited for when people can more freely come in and out of that space physically. But even when we’re not able to go there, it’s just a really incredible experience and super humbling to me. Because at a school like Wesleyan, [where] there are so many resources and there’s so much money here that people assume that there are not too many problems for students, but there are, and there’s a lot of tough realities for students and the Middletown community, which was seen as historically neglected.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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