Arij Mikati: ‘Open the door, and invite people in’

Arij Mikati smiling

Storyteller and arts advocate Arij Mikati ’10 wants students of color to know that someone will always be there to appreciate the talents they bring, so “Open the door, and invite people in.” Here, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) alumnus talks about paving her own way and creating the world that she wants to see.

Where do you currently work?

I serve as the founding managing director of culture change at Pillars Fund, a community-based grant-making organization that seeks to amplify the leadership, narratives, and talents of Muslims in the United States. I love my job, one that my education at the University of Minnesota (and the Master of Education I completed later) made me uniquely prepared to take on. 

What did you study in CLA? What inspired you to pursue that path?

I double-majored in theatre arts and political science at the U, a combination that felt confusing to many in my community who asked, “What are you going to do with that?” It's affirming, 13 years later, to say "I'm going to change people's beliefs and actions about and towards my community through stories, until the changes become systemic and embedded in our American politic."

I've always believed in the power of stories to serve as both a mirror, where we deserve to see ourselves, and a window, where we deserve to learn and see beyond ourselves to build a connection that surpasses tribalism. In short, I believe art is one of the most influential engines for social change available to us, and this is the mindset I entered CLA with when I chose my majors.

"I believe art is one of the most influential engines for social change available to us"

What advice would you give to current students of color?

An incredibly important shift for me happened when I stopped playing defense for myself and my community, constantly trying to justify our existence by explaining what I was NOT. What I am is so much more interesting. I've since stopped knocking on doors and being asked to be let in. I'm much more interested in throwing a party so excellent that people from the dominant culture wander by me and ask, "Can I check you out?"

The job I have today didn't exist when I graduated from the U of M. The world is moving more quickly than ever, and [so I’d advise students] to make courageous decisions that fill a gap you have passionately noticed in the world. Not only will that lead you to study something that you are invested and interested in, but it will allow you to be in the driver's seat of your own life and the opportunities available to you upon graduation, rather than making life decisions about the fleeting world that you live in today.

See an expanded version of this interview at the College of Liberal Arts.