Western PhD engineering student Sadaf Mehrabi is motivated by a passion to quell hatred with advocacy and humanity. As the inaugural recipient of the Madiha Salman Memorial Scholarship in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mehrabi is honouring Madiha Salman and her family members, who were struck and killed one year ago in what police have called an anti-Muslim hate crime.
“At first, when this terrible thing happened, I felt so discouraged. But then I thought, I need to find my own role and impact in making sure nothing like this happens again,” Mehrabi said.
“We need to build bridges. That was my goal when I applied for this award, to spend more time educating myself and others in equity, diversity and inclusion. This tragedy has motivated me 1,000 times more, and the award will help me do that.”
The Madiha Salman Memorial Scholarship in Civil and Environmental Engineering is offered at Western and supported by family and friends to laud excellence in a graduate-level engineering student. It was created in honour of Salman, who was working towards her PhD in environmental engineering at Western, and whose tragic death, along with three other members of her family – her husband Salman Afzaal, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah, and Afzaal’s mother – rocked the Western community and all of Canada.
Western will be marking the one-year anniversary of their deaths by supporting and contributing to community memorial events, including a walk and vigil. The university will also offer counselling supports as the campus community commemorates the tragedy and advocates for change.
“Salman and Madiha were part of the Western family. Our hearts go out to their loved ones and to London’s Muslim community who continue to mourn their loss. We join in their grief, as we stand together in rejecting hatred in all its forms,” said Western president Alan Shepard.
Mehrabi has been a leader in advocating for equity, diversity and inclusion on campus, especially in the Faculty of Engineering.
When she thinks of the scholarship, Mehrabi thinks first of family: the Salman/Afzaal family, her own family, the Western family of students, faculty and staff. And she thinks of the global family, in all its fragility and resilience.
Mehrabi, who earned a master’s degree in engineering from Tehran, is studying biological engineering solutions in wastewater treatment, under the supervision of civil and environmental engineering professor Martha Dagnew.
She has received numerous scholarships and awards, which helped buoy her confidence in her scholarship and research.
“I will continue to work on technical things, but I also need to put my work into environmental justice,” she said.
Following the Afzaal family tragedy, Western also established the Salman Afzaal Memorial Scholarship in Physical Therapy, in memory of Afzaal who earned his master’s in health sciences at Western in 2010. The scholarship is awarded each year to a full-time graduate student enrolled in a doctoral or master’s program in health and rehabilitation sciences. The first recipient of that scholarship has not yet been chosen.
Western is supporting several events taking place in London, Ont., to remember the family on the first anniversary of their deaths, and to stand against Islamophobia.
Yumnah Afzaal’s peers started an organization called the Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia, working with the community to organize a march and a vigil.
A community-organized march to combat Islamophobia and hate begins at Oakridge Secondary School Sunday, June 5, at 1 p.m., and moves its way along Oxford Street to the London Muslim Mosque.
An evening vigil is planned for Monday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m., at the intersection of South Carriage and Hyde Park roads, where the crash happened, and where the City of London is installing a permanent memorial to the family. Members of the Faculty of Engineering have contributed video messages commemorating Madiha Salman.
On Tuesday, June 7, at 9 a.m., the Muslim Resource Centre, Islamic Social Services Association and King’s School of Social Work discuss anti-Muslim hate at a free, in-person event. Workshops about Islam and Muslim culture will provide an opportunity for open discussions with the goal of learning how to recognize, resist and respond to Islamophobia and discrimination within our London community. Everyone is welcome to join this community conversation.
On Wednesday, June 8, at 12 p.m., the Muslim Resource Centre, Islamic Social Services Association, and King’s School of Social Work will hold two half-day workshops discussing anti-Muslim hate for those working in the social service sector and education sector, respectively. This free, in-person event will host several knowledgeable and engaging presenters about understanding and resisting Islamophobia along with cyber-hate. Registration is required.
Also on Wednesday, June 8, at 12 p.m., a webinar titled, Allyship against Islamophobia – Actions are Louder than Words, will highlight the need for action against Islamophobia in our community and discuss tangible ways to demonstrate solidarity with Muslim-identifying people. Registration is required and is limited to Western employees.
Western will have supports available to students and employees this weekend, during and after the march and vigil. Information is provided below.
Supports for Western students
Virtual counselling during #OurLondonFamily march: On June 5, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Western’s mental health team and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) will be offering free, confidential support. Students in need of support can email firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and phone number and a member of the team, who is from London’s Muslim community, will call as soon as possible.
Virtual counselling during the vigil: On June 6, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., CMHA will be providing support. Students can call Reach Out at (519) 433-2023.
Priority mental health appointments: Priority mental health counselling appointments will be available June 6 to 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for students who require support. Appointments can be booked same-day or in advance by calling 519-661-3030.
Community of Care for #OurLondonFamily: On June 7, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., in Thames Hall, Rm 3118, there will be an in-person gathering for Muslim and/or Pakistani identifying students, co-facilitated by Student Experience staff who identify as Muslim, to come together in a safe space, to honour experiences within community, and to support and affirm one another. Registration is not required and drop-ins are welcome.
Supports for Western employees
Employee Well-being (Human Resources), and the Office of EDI have coordinated counsellor-support sessions for Western employees who wish to discuss their experiences and emotions regarding anti-Muslim racism.