GLAD TO MEET YOU: What You Didn't Know about SMU's Sam Alavi
“I believe in a health equity first approach to community engagement. If we look at how community engagement impacts the most marginalized and start from there, everyone benefits.” - Sam Alavi, Director of the Center for Community Engagement
BA Sociology & Education, UC Davis; MA Policy, Organization, Leadership, Stanford University
San Mateo, Calif.
Hired at SMU
Founding Director for the Center for Community Engagement
Sam Alavi-Irvine wants to make the University’s community engagement efforts synonymous with health equity. That includes meeting the health needs of people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, disabled people, and other groups experiencing health disparities.
How can SMU better align its community engagement with health equity, in your view?
One way is by providing learning and service opportunities for students and faculty at local clinics and nonprofits that remove barriers and create intentional care opportunities for the marginalized.
SMU has a long history of community engagement. Where do you see opportunities?
The University does great community engagement, but it’s siloed. I want to create holistic relationships with community partners so there’s multiple touchpoints. Maybe we develop a partnership between an organization and our nursing students, but they could also benefit from podiatry doing a foot and ankle clinic. This approach allows for both interprofessional education and more robust service to the community.
What drew you to SMU?
Universities are powerful places where students can learn so much beyond the classroom. We can engage them in thinking about power, privilege, and civic engagement. Students should not only graduate with academic skills but also skills to identify problems in the world and skills to fix them.
How do you spend free time?
I consult for nonprofits. My husband and I spend time together knocking on doors for political candidates. I also do photography.
Photography became my way of capturing beauty in the world. I’ve done around 1,000 photoshoots—headshots, family photos, graduations, a few weddings, political campaigns. In 2013, I received fellowship funding to travel and take pictures of members of the Middle Eastern and South Asian communities addressing homophobia and transphobia. That was my first experience with photography as a social justice and storytelling tool, which I loved.
What’s a favorite tradition?
I’m Iranian and the Persian New Year (Nowruz) is the biggest holiday. We’ll have a big picnic and celebration, including jumping over lines of fire.