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How Bunyad Bhatti is defying cultural conventions

Bunyad Bhatti, right, with Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
Bunyad Bhatti, right, with Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Bunyad Bhatti tells much of her life story in numbers.

Growing up, she attended nine different schools in 12 years. She lived in 14 homes, and in two countries.

Keeping in line with cultural expectations of someday becoming a doctor, she spent her senior year of high school applying to pre-med programs—Muslim kids are groomed to go to medical school or to become engineers, she says.

Yet politics was her passion.

“It came naturally for me,” Bhatti says. “Whereas I’d sit with a bio textbook for six hours and still not know what I was cramming.”

So she applied to one school for political science: TCNJ. And recently, the junior poli sci major added another number to her story: she was selected as one of only five students nationwide to participate in the Congressional Leadership Development Program, a fledgling initiative aimed at cultivating American Muslim leaders and fostering pride in government service.

“The purpose of the program is to make room for us,” she says. Though she explains that CLDP organizers had to ask 95 offices on Capitol Hill in order to place their five interns because, as she puts it, “No one wanted to be labeled with Muslim interns.”

Bhatti landed in the office of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), where she wrote floor statements, attended dinners at embassies, met with ambassadors, and went to hearings—including one led by Senator Ted Cruz, during which he suggested that all Muslims should be monitored for security purposes, even those on Capitol Hill.

But she refused to let discrimination be the cornerstone of her experience, and instead focused on the projects that inspired her, like working to collect signatures on a bill that would award Pakistani activist and youngest-ever Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai a special congressional service award.

Bhatti stresses the need for Muslim involvement in our government because, “there are decisions being made about us that we don’t have a say in,” she says.

But that involvement takes preparation—Bhatti is hunkering down to take the LSATs in the spring—and guts.

“You want to be very, very well-equipped. You want to have your degree, you want to have your experience. Everything. So if someone doesn’t take you, you know exactly why,” she says.

She’s ready to beat the odds and pave the way to increasing the number of Muslims in politics.

“It’s a big challenge, but it isn’t impossible.”

Emily W. Dodd ’03, Digital Content Editor, with additional reporting by Tom Kozlowski ’16