Yes, that Yoda. Mohammed Shakibnia says the Jedi Master was known for being a wise paragon of virtue, “but he wasn’t infallible. He made mistakes, and acknowledging them is really what true wisdom is about.”
Mohammed is writing his honors thesis on the socio-political aspects of “Star Wars” and how science fiction can help us address issues like race and injustice. He considers “Star Wars” a deeply political text, with working-class, exploited communities rebelling against an oppressive empire. “I think we can learn a lot of lessons from that in terms of fighting authoritarianism in our own society,” he says.
Mohammed first became politically conscious in high school, and his Honors College experience — with a dual major in political science and philosophy — is helping him shape that consciousness into a career path as an immigration lawyer.
“In particular, philosophy helps you understand the root of issues in society,” he says. “You read a lot of theory and different perspectives from philosophers throughout history. It helps you to think critically, and that’s what allows a good lawyer to operate.”
Mohammed did not get into the Honors College when he first applied, but after his first semester at Oregon State, he was invited to join. With plans to attend law school at UCLA, he’s trying to complete his undergraduate degree with no debt. He lives at home with his family in Corvallis and works as a soccer coach and referee to help cover costs. He’s earned a Potter scholarship from the Honors College for the past three years and an Experiential Learning Scholarship to attend a conference. He also completed an internship this past summer, jointly funded by the Honors College and the Center for Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts.
That internship aligned with issues he’d previously worked on as a leadership liaison at the Ettihad Cultural Center: Islamaphobia in the legal system and society. Mohammed worked with Associate Professor Christopher Stout on a project studying race, gender and religion in the political campaigns of Muslim women during the 2018 U.S. elections.
The internship “gave me a different insight into how research is done,” Mohammed says. “It’s a very meticulous process.”
Mohammed examined how the women were covered in the media and some of the rhetoric used against them. His work also involved coding — a new experience — scraping tweets and running them through algorithms to identify trends in messaging. He and Stout are still compiling their findings, but he says “the data show empirically that these Muslim women are conflated a lot more with terrorism,” even though those messages are not true.
A theme of social justice runs through Mohammed’s college experience. “We have a lot of work to do to make college more accessible to all,” he says. “I’m very lucky. I have access to these opportunities where a lot of students don’t.”
With the opportunities he’s had, Mohammed intends to work toward a more just world where education is treated as a human right. Yoda would surely approve.