NOVA Reignites Student’s Passion to Learn

July 28, 2023

Samar Rafiqzad is a first-year NOVA student with a passion for advocacy work. She is helping others understand what sexual violence is and how to prevent it. Samar is on the Board of Directors of SafeBAE, a survivor-founded and student-led organization working to prevent sexual violence among middle and high school students. 

Samar Rafiqzad

Tell us a little about yourself and your background:  
I was born and raised in Burke, Va. While in high school, I began pursuing survivor justice activism work. After graduating, I took some time off and quickly got involved with SafeBAE to focus on sexual violence prevention in K-12 settings. 

A big part of SafeBAE is that survivors founded it, and the “BAE” stands for “Before Anyone Else.” It was created by people who know, first-hand, the devastating impact of sexual violence and its detrimental effects, especially on our youth. The purpose of the program is to prevent this from happening to others; and the prevention work must start at the pre-college level.  

I’m in my second year working with SafeBAE and recently became its programs manager. Over the past year, I’ve focused on presenting to high school students about consent and healthy relationships. 

I have found that teaching, even a basic level of consent and boundaries, can empower young people. Also, they realize what they’re comfortable with when it comes to boundaries and what they’re not. A lot of people who participate in our programs discover that something did happen to them earlier in their lives, but they did not know that what happened to them was not OK. 

Another crucial part of SafeBAE is youth peer-to-peer education and training. Students can sign up for this training entirely for free, and once they become certified in consent education and sexual violence prevention, they teach other students at their respective schools. 

In addition, I work with Advocates for Youth under their Muslim Youth Leadership Council. I focus on queer inclusion and the intersections of sexual violence.  

What brought you to NOVA?  
Education needs to be more accessible, and I think that's what NOVA was for me and a lot of other people.  

Even though I applied and was accepted to four-year universities after high school, I realized the only reason I would be going to college would be because that's what I felt was expected of me. I really wanted to make sure I was focusing on what I wanted to do, so I decided to take some time off from everything, including my advocacy work.  

During the downtime, I realized that my advocacy work was truly fulfilling for me. Also, I knew the issues I had been fighting for would continue, even if I chose to ignore them. That’s when I decided I needed to be part of the solution and jumped back into my advocacy work. 

About a year after graduating high school and working, I realized I missed an academic setting and wanted to continue my education. NOVA was a great choice because it gave me the flexibility to start school at my own pace while focusing on my own priorities. 

What are you studying or plan to study at NOVA? 
When I came, I wasn't sure what I wanted to study. I thought I was going to do political science, but I found out very quickly it wasn't for me. I've only done one semester at NOVA, so I'm still feeling things out. 

I signed up for a sociology class simply because I needed another elective, and I was shocked by how much I loved it. It took everything I was doing in my work, all the hands-on work, and translated it into academic language. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.  
I've only spent a semester at NOVA as a part-time student, so my experience is limited, but in that short amount of time, it reignited my passion for academics! I'm planning on starting full-time in the fall. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
Everyone comes to NOVA on a different path. So, I couldn't give any generalized advice since it depends on one's own circumstances. But I will say that it's easy to get sucked into doing what other people think you should be doing. While at times it's crucial to get advice from other people, I've found most of the things I'm proudest of in life came from me trusting my gut and following what I truly believed in.  

Personally, it's really been about knowing myself well enough to balance work, school and life in a way that allows me to focus on what's most important to me. While I enjoy being back in an academic environment, I also feel very fulfilled in my work, knowing that I can make an immediate difference in people's lives. 

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? 
After NOVA, I’d like to finish my degree at a four-year college and continue my sexual violence prevention work with SafeBAE. 

There are a handful of organizations in the country that do sexual violence prevention work, but there are no others that work specifically with K-12. I think the youth population is one of our most vulnerable groups. We really need to focus on them, and I find the work incredibly rewarding. 

Topics: featured article, work in the community, student success