In the world of youth politics, Mariam Dogar is a rising star.
Currently a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she sits on the executive board of the MIT Democrats and serves on Cambridge’s Ward 2 committee, which she co-founded. She’s part of the leadership circle for the Boston March for Science. She’s also coordinating with the American Muslim Democratic Caucus to implement a plan for youth engagement and outreach. In June, she’ll represent Cambridge as a delegate at the Democratic State Convention.
Born in Singapore to a Pakistani father and an American mother, Dogar says, “I’ve been blessed to experience the fruits of co-existence. Under my own roof, I grew up having to acknowledge and mediate the cultural, religious, and language differences between two sides of my family.”
Later, she moved to the United Arab Emirates.
“Growing up in Dubai, an international hub brimming with diverse ideologies, I realized how critical it is to conduct respectful conversations. During the Arab Spring, there were instances where I’d console my Egyptian friend in the bathroom about her ‘burning country.’ In the midst of Iranian sanctions, one of my closest friends posed a question: ‘Mariam, why is your country hurting mine?’”
In high school, Dogar moved yet again, this time to the United States. Her senior year, she conducted a science project on food additives. When she received the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and present her findings at a conference, she realized that she wanted to become a champion for scientific research.
“While I was there, we met with Congressman McGovern and watched the House of Representatives argue about a National Institutes of Health bill. It was very concerning to hear people who knew very little about scientific research discuss cutting funding and the ‘frivolity’ of science. I wanted to jump in and be part of the debate. That moment, I knew that regardless of which field I ended up studying, I would be involved in policy.”
Later that year, she interned at the Massachusetts State House in the office of State Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler. But she wasn’t satisfied. In the bleak weeks after the presidential election, Dogar realized she had to pursue catalytic, not passive, roles within both her college and local communities.
“I asked myself, had I really done all I could to combat the misunderstanding, bigotry, and hate? The answer was that discussing issues with my friends wasn’t enough,” she said.
She continues, “As a young Muslim woman who lived abroad in an Arab country and whose father immigrated to America, there were so many things that I wanted to speak up about. I have friends who now cannot go back home to their families in Iran and Syria.
“Fellow students had troubles getting back into the United States after winter break to start the new semester. Many of them are afraid to speak up and use their voices politically. It was clear that I should use my knowledge, privilege, and energy to reach out to an audience larger than my social circle.”
And she’s already got big plans to do so. On Earth Day, Dogar will co-lead the Boston March for Science, which will be held in conjunction with the March for Science in Washington D.C.
She explains her concerns: “From drastic proposed federal R&D budget cuts to climate-denying cabinet members and alternative facts, we’ve reached a point where it is critical for us to address the relationship between science and democracy.”
Many in the MIT community wrangle with the same worries. In March, 22 faculty members of the MIT program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate penned an open letter to Donald Trump, urging him to take climate change seriously.
When asked for her advice for youth who also want to get involved in activism, Dogar says, “First, figure out what it is that you have to offer and set a limit for time commitment– it is very easy to be sucked in and dedicate your entire day to a cause you are passionate about.
“It’s also good to identify what exactly you want to see change in, and look at how people have enacted similar change in the past – yay for research! Look for opportunities in your daily life to help you work towards your goals.
“Reach out– there are other people who feel the same. Please don’t think you’re too young to do anything worthwhile. A lot of people out there recognize that the youth are going to be the ones to really take charge and sustain this movement, and they are willing to help!”