Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

"Brown played a huge role in my thinking; it shaped my commitment to public service."

Sumbul Siddiqui '10

Alumni Spotlight: Sumbul Siddiqui '10

Hometown: Cambridge, Mass.

Concentration: Public Policy and American Institutions, with Honors

Employment: Attorney at Northeast Legal Aid and Cambridge City Council Member-Elect

As an activist and now a public interest lawyer, you’ve helped better the lives of young people, people of color, low-income and elderly individuals. With all those contributions, why run for elective office? What is your top priority as a City Council member?

Constituents can come to me about the issues they care about and I can look into those issues; that’s very different than serving on a board. As an elected official, I can cast a much wider net, which is why politics can be a transformative tool.

I recognize Cambridge is liberal and progressive… yet we have a lot of work to be done. Having grown up in affordable housing, I want to work on policies that enable more families to stay in Cambridge. I’d love for the city to keep thinking about ways to do that, by taking decrepit properties by eminent domain and building affordable housing there and on vacant lots. I’m troubled that two deed restrictions in Cambridge’s first-time homebuyer program create obstacles to building equity and generational wealth through homeownership. Too, private developers have more money to buy the limited land available for housing than does Cambridge. It’s a multi-faceted issue, but I want to ensure more families know about the opportunities Cambridge offers them.

How did your experiences at Brown shape and inform your career paths and commitment to public service?

Brown played a huge role in my thinking; it shaped my commitment to public service. I wanted to study the policies and programs that influenced my life – from Head Start, free and reduced school lunches and public housing. I took social policy-oriented courses that gave me a great expertise in these areas.

I was very active and engaged at Brown, which set the trajectory for me. In 2010, I received the Joslin Award, in recognition of my commitment to public service, and the Public Policy Department Service Award. The AmeriCorps fellowship I had with New Profit, a Boston-based organization – one of the best experiences of my life – and becoming a public interest lawyer stem from my undergraduate years at Brown, where I gained a set of tools that helped further my public service career.

Campaigns can be grueling and tough; beyond winning, were there any campaign highlights?

It was wonderful to meet Muslim and Somali fathers who told me, “You’re such a great example for our daughters.”  These young girls were so excited to learn that I’d grown up in their housing complex or nearby. In other areas, I met people who expressed surprise that a young woman of color who grew up poor graduated from Brown and became a lawyer. It’s hard for all women, including women of color, to run for office, with so many barriers. I hope to break down those barriers for the future.

 -- Interview by Nancy Kirsch