March 26, 2023

Sarah Alsaidi '21TC

Sarah Alsaidi earned her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2021. Her research focuses on identity, microaggressions, and microintervention response strategies for people of color and allies. She has played an integral role in the development of mental health awareness campaigns and programming in the community, initiatives centering the experiences of women of color and access to education, as well as teaching anti-bias microintervention strategies in education, non-profit and corporate settings. She is a co-author of the book “Microinterventions: What You Can Do to Disarm and Dismantle Individual and Systemic Racism and Bias” and publication in the American Psychologist.

Our Nadine Mansour sat down with her for this interview.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your current role, where you live and what you do. 

Currently I work as a post-doctoral psychologist in a private practice setting providing individual therapy around issues of identity, experiences of discrimination, and interpersonal and relational challenges. I also serve as the Director of Research at Rutgers University through the ADHD clinic and work as an executive functioning specialist at Organizational Tutors. 

Can you share a little bit about your journey at Columbia, and how it led you to your current work? 

When I was at Sarah Lawrence College, I was an early childhood development major and really interested in nonfiction writing. 

After I graduated, I knew I was interested in psychology, but didn't know what I wanted to do in psychology. A professor suggested I apply to the mental health counseling program, and Columbia's program in particular. 

For a year I worked at the Arab American Family Support Center in NYC between undergrad and starting the masters program at Columbia, and that gap year allowed me to solidify my path. 

My motivating factor for becoming a clinician was to de-stigmatize mental health among the Arab and Muslim population.

When I started the PhD program, I realized there was just so little literature or research on our population. And without that research base you can't get access to funds, to support the work. 

I became interested particularly in the experiences of discrimination among Arab Americans and specifically women. I started my own independent research project on this.

Tell us about your impact through your trailblazing work?

I was able to publish my study exploring experiences of discrimination and identity development among Arab American women. The study brought attention to the ways the various intersections of identity and multiple experiences of marginalization impact sense of self and sense of belonging. Many participants in my research shared that they felt they were an  "invisible minority" due to the categorization of Arabs as White on the U.S. Census. 

We have a lot of shared experiences and that's what my paper was able to highlight, the experiences of Arab American Muslim women specifically and how they view their own racial identity and how they experience discrimination. And when they do experience discrimination, what aspects of their identity they attribute that to.

I worked with the Arab American Family Support Center to develop the curriculum for their Audacious Young Women of Action (AYWA) program. I used my research on access to education among women of color to inform the curriculum and healing circle. I facilitated this group and provided training to young women who were preparing to or applying to college through mentoring and workshops. The program is still running today. 

Were there any mentors that helped along the way?

I was the first visibly Muslim student to be accepted into my Ph.D. program to my knowledge. That comes with a lot of breaking down barriers and doors. It feels exciting, but it's also an isolating experience. 

I had to lean on the outside support of my own family and friends outside of school.

My advisor Laura Smith helped shape my identity through the program and made space for me to process things as they came up.

What was your favorite class? Favorite spot on campus? Favorite work by an Arab creative?

Favorite class has to be Race Lab. I've taken it and I've also taught it. 

It's a class that's designed to help clinicians think through aspects of their identity, but also to look inward and identify bias, and name it and call it out and challenge it. 

My favorite spot to hang out was Joe Coffee, because it was right across the street from TC. The Chai from there would make my day.

Favorite writer would be Hala Alyan, author of Salt Houses and others. I met her at a poetry day event.

What advice would you give your younger self will help being a student at Columbia? 

I would say to myself, that girl who was crying in the bathroom on Orientation Day with a feeling of imposter syndrome, don't doubt that you belong, and and trust that you were enough.

I spent 7 years of my life at Columbia between the Masters and the Ph.D. program and I grew tremendously in the program. But it didn't come without its challenges and feelings of isolation. There was a constant feeling I needed to do so much more.

I ended up taking on every project, and just exhausting myself completely. A big part of that is ambition, and that's positive, and I'm proud of myself for that. But I wish I could go back and just tell myself don't doubt that you belong, and you are enough.

What can the CAAA offer?

CAAA can help by creating community connection, the way that you have started to. Hosting events, supporting with applications, and just mentoring and connecting people with others in the field.

I think you know, I had to see my path in the space of counseling primarily on my own. But that would be a really cool thing that you can offer across a variety of disciplines.