Ali Hagani ’22 advocates for women’s rights, political activism

September 13, 2019

Since coming to Brandeis over a year ago, Alison Hagani ’22 has always wanted to make a change not only on campus but in the country. She is majoring in sociology with minors in legal studies and Social Justice, Social Policy (SJSP). Outside of academics, she is a Peer Advocate and Violence Prevention Educator at Brandeis’ Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC), a representative at The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) and is involved in Brandeis Democrats. She is also an Undergraduate Departmental Representative (UDR) for the Sociology department. But her biggest role is outside of Brandeis campus and with the College Democrats of Massachusetts (CDMA).

Hagani started her work with CDMA when she attended their winter summit in February 2019 with Brandeis Democrats. “At the summit, I got to meet politically involved students from universities all across Massachusetts, think more critically about state-wide registration and started to view at least my political involvement as something intangibly linked to social reform and grassroots lobbying,” she wrote to The Brandeis Hoot in an email.

CDMA is the Massachusetts state-wide branch of the national College Democrats of America. CDMA has chartered chapters in universities all across Massachusetts and holds events and encourages political activism from the community, Hagani told The Hoot. She added that “as part of this initiative, CDMA has several caucuses all devoted to the advocacy and representation of certain identities and causes.”

“The importance of CDMA lies mostly in the fact that it harnesses the efforts of students across Massachusetts and brings them together under a shared goal of political activeness and social reform,” Hagani told The Hoot. “There is something so fundamentally important about a group of similarly-motivated students from across Massachusetts bringing their different perspectives, identities, experiences and insights together to fight for positive social change.” 

CDMA has endorsed a few candidates across Massachusetts ahead of the upcoming 2019 elections, including Rebecca Lisi for Holyoke’s City Councilor-At-Large and Erica Scott-Pacheo for Mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, Hagani told The Hoot. The organization as a whole does not endorse specific presidential candidates until the primaries are complete. Hagani did note that many CDMA members are canvassing and working for various presidential campaigns. “The wide-range of support for a plethora of different candidates truly reflects how CDMA members—while ultimately united under a common goal—still differ in priorities, perspectives, ideologies and more,” she wrote. “It makes our group more diverse and calls for better discussions.”

These caucuses provide like-minded students in Massachusetts the opportunity to meet and “promote statewide legislative advocacy and education in support of a certain cause or issue,” Hagani added. Being a sociology major with a political focus, she approaches politics “with a very humanitarian and socially-conscious lenses” and was intrigued to hear there was a caucus within CDMA that was focused on women’s rights. She applied for caucus chair and was elected by the executive board of CDMA in summer 2019.

Hagani says she was drawn to CDMA because of their emphasis on action and reform. “Especially in our sometimes-disheartening current political and societal environment, the chance to work alongside fellow college students who are similarly motivated is truly the antidote to any feelings of helplessness,” she wrote. She added that CDMA also sustains her personal activism. 

The CDMA’s Women’s Caucus “advocates for the rights, representation and freedom of women across Massachusetts and beyond,” Hagani told The Hoot. “We achieve this through outreach, events and programming, education, advocacy, community-building and representation.” 

She works alongside Vice Chair Sophia Ventura, a junior at UMass Amherst, in the CDMA’s Women’s Caucus. At the moment, the caucus is focused on mobilizing members and creating their legislative agenda. Hagani went onto speak about the work that the Women’s Caucus has done with The Every Voice Coalition to mobilize CDMA chapters to hold letter-writing events at their chapter meetings. “The letter-writing would call on the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education in Massachuesetts State Legislature to bring critical sexual violence prevention bills to a vote,” said Hagani.

Hagani hopes that the Women’s Caucus will continue to fight for “affirmative policies, candidates and initiatives that will holistically protect and enhance the rights of women.” Going beyond this, she also recognizes that there are certain issues (gender inequality and sexism) that are not very clear on the surface and hopes to mobilize students across Massachusetts to advocate for reform on these issues. Hagani added that the Women’s Caucus will also, hopefully, become a “community of empowerment and celebration.” 

Even though a lot of the work within CDMA is about mobilizing the community, Hagani also focused on the importance of going out and using voting power, whether it be on the national level or at school. When asked, “Why vote?” Hagani cited her own personal experiences. This past summer, she interned at the Legal Aid Society (LAS) in New York City with their Immigration Law Unit. There she met with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients to renew their status. “The individuals I assisted at LAS were so fun to talk to, kind, funny, intelligent and so much more, but their futures in America were always in jeopardy due to shifting administrations and inadequate policies,” she told The Hoot. 

She encourages everyone to “vote for yourself and the candidates and policies that align with your own priorities and causes,” she said. “Being able to vote is a fundamental American right that everyone should be able to utilize, but it is also an immense privilege—I encourage everyone to use that privilege to vote for candidates who uphold the values and the vision of America that not only most align with theirs but are the most inclusive and welcoming.”

After college, Hagani plans to go to law school and pursue a career in legal advocacy or nonprofit work. She intends to stay involved with politics even if it isn’t part of her career. “College Democrats of Massachusetts has taught me a lot about how laws, policies, candidates and decisions should always reflect the needs and desires of the community and its inhabitants,” she told The Hoot. 

Hagani also spoke about putting herself in the headspace of those who may not be as privileged. “Beyond this, it’s critical that I am constantly accessing not only how I can be a voice for those not present but how I can bring them into that decision-making process, as well,” she wrote to The Hoot. “CDMA has further opened my eyes to the necessity of these active commitments.”

She also stressed in an email that it’s never too late to get involved with politics. “Political activism can manifest in so many forms, including voting, encouraging others to vote or staying informed,” she told The Hoot. “If you harness a drive to improve this country, then your perspective, your voice and your knowledge and experience—to whatever extent you have it—is still crucial in this fight and I encourage you to get involved in whatever way you can. 

Hagani told The Hoot that on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., Brandeis Pro-Choice and Brandeis Democrats will be hosting a letter-writing event, respectively. The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) will also be hosting a letter-writing event on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m.

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