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Empowering Identities with Gadeer Ayesh
Episode 2329th September 2023 • Our Roots Say That We're Sisters • Marquette University
00:00:00 00:22:13

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Sheena interviews Gadeer Ayesh, a trailblazing Neurosurgery Physician Assistant, first-generation Arab-American Muslim, and advocate for inclusivity. Gadeer's journey from a small-town school to Marquette University defied expectations, driven by her parents' immigrant experience and a determination to excel.

The passing of her grandfather due to limited healthcare access fueled her commitment to make a difference. Despite skepticism, she emerged as a beacon of representation for her culture and religion. Gadeer's involvement in a mural project at Marquette celebrating women of color showcases her advocacy for inclusivity.

She draws strength from her support system, considering her family and community as her true heroes. Tune in for an inspiring story of resilience, authenticity, and a vision for an inclusive world!

Episode Highlights:

06:22 - It's really not fair that you have to represent an entire people but it is. A lot of people, especially like being at Marquette, they never encountered a Muslim before. They've never seen, they don't know what a hijab is. They don't know where Palestine is. And so just kind of being that spokesperson and embodying that in everything that I say and do, and all of my decisions. It catapults me into where I want to be and how I want to present myself.

12:43 - Each of my sisters is my therapist in a different way. I'm always able to be vulnerable with them. No judgments. Whether it's, I want to be a PA, but I don't know if I can get in, and them pushing me, striving me to be better.

18:22 - I struggled and it took a while to get to where I am today, but maybe the people after me, they don't have to go through that struggle. Maybe it'll be easier for them. The mentorship program, I would love to be a mentor.


What's the story you'd like to share with us today?

02:26 - I went to kind of a small town school, went to a private school where everyone's  the same as me. They're all first generation Arab-American Muslims, so a little sheltered kind of growing up, and then I go to Marquette. Absolutely loved it. I met a lot of my super close friends there, but I learned who I was at Marquette, grew as a person, , and then became a PA, and here I am.

What set you on that path to becoming a PA?

04:50 - I learned early on that if I wanted to succeed, if I wanted to do what I wanted while looking the way I looked, it takes a little dedication, a little drive. It wasn't easy. There was a lot of pushback. There was a lot of people questioning, who I was and what I was doing there. Am I qualified? And so, that always pushed me.

What are some other ways that your identity has informed the choices that you've made in life?

05:57 - You look at me and you know exactly who I am potentially, and you've already formed judgments based on  what I look like. So I am clearly Muslim. You see it by the hijab that I wear, and I embody kind of Islam in everything I do or say. And so, it's always on the forefront in terms of I'm representing myself, but I'm also representing my religion and my culture.

You've got a certain claim to fame. Which one of these are you?

07:05 - The one in the hijab. The one in the scarf.

How did you get to be a part of that and how did that make you feel?

07:13 - It's honestly the most surreal thing ever. I told you before my husband is my biggest kind of cheerleader and supporter and anybody he meets, "Did you know that my wife is on the wall? She's on the mural at Marquette. And it's like, "Oh, God, it's embarrassing."

You've referred to your husband several times. Were you married as an undergrad?

09:33 - We were not. No, but we actually went to Marquette together. We actually grew up together. He was living in Jordan for a while.

Who are your heroes or sheroes?

10:16 - It's the women in my life – my sisters, my mother, just the friends that I've made through EOP and through Marquette. We're still super close till this day, and we talk all the time. I mean, my sisters are absolutely amazing. They are mothers. They work. They have their own kind of accomplishments. And I always look to them no matter what for advice for kind of just needing to figure something out or just to look.

What role has vulnerability played in how your story has unfolded?

11:53 - Being vulnerable comes with the territory, honestly. If you are not vulnerable constantly in every decision you make, especially being first generation, being Arab, being Muslim, just not knowing what you're doing or where you're going, I make fun of myself all the time. And I say I'm in a constant state of imposter syndrome.

What role have your sisters, in terms of women of color, played in helping you navigate that vulnerability and rise to whatever challenges they've presented?

13:12 - There's that level of trust and that level of loyalty where I'm like, "I know I can be vulnerable with you and tell you what's going on in my heart or in my head, and there's no judgments. You're going to be there for me and you're going to help me throughout whatever struggle I'm going through, without kind of looking the other way, always having my back."

Practicing vulnerability in a safe space, has it made it easier for you to be vulnerable outside of those kinds of spaces?

13:40 - Yes and no. It's still difficult. It's easier to be vulnerable with the people that are closest to you. Growing up the way you do, you have hard experiences. Living under occupation and just kind of like sharing some traumatic experiences and just trying to navigate the world, you share a certain bond. But it also gives you a little bit of a harder shell.

What role has or what impact has Marquette had on who you are, where you're going, where you've been?

15:14 - It made me a stronger person because obviously most of the people that go to Marquette do not look like me. But it helped shape me into kind of the strong, kind of independent person that I am.

What impact do you hope to have on women of color? Those who are coming behind you, those who are walking with you, those who may have trod that path ahead of you.

17:41 - Women of color who have my back and who are there to help me and support me, I'm hopeful. I want to be that person for others. I want to be able to empower other people, or they know that they could reach out to other people who would be able to help them because not everybody is as blessed. I just want other women of color to be empowered.

What are your hopes for the future, your future, the future of Marquette and just the future in general for our world?

19:52 - I don't want my daughters to have to shrink back or feel, not ashamed, but like feel different. "Oh, I'm wearing a scarf. There's no one else in my entire kind of cohort, who wears a scarf," and feel uncomfortable with that. They should love their faith, love God, and love who they are, no matter where they're at, and just feel comfortable in their own skin. The sky's the limit for my daughters and for everybody else, for all future generations.

What would you like the community, and when I say community, it could be Marquette's community or community that you identify with, to know about you and your journey?

21:14 - Vulnerability is difficult, but I like to be vulnerable. I like to talk to people and I always strive to be the best version of myself. And I hope I can embody that. I hope I can make my family proud, my friends proud, Marquette proud, too. Because Marquette made me who I am today.

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The Our Roots Say That We're Sisters Podcast series was recorded and produced by Podcast Town (





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