Whether he has been calling out to a bustling MU Student Center about the dangers of remaining silent when witnessing racism, remaining steadfast in the center of the homecoming parade to make a statement, or simply meeting with worried members of the University of Missouri student body, Reuben Faloughi has been in the center of student activism and social justice at Mizzou.
“I think some people have some negative feelings about how he expressed himself or delivered his message at times,” Daniel Cohen, friend of Faloughi, said. “I wish they knew how much of a caring and supportive person he is. When he gets passionate, it comes from a place of caring.”
Faloughi, a graduate student at MU, attributes his methods for going through life to how he grew up. His Nigerian parents had high standards for education, instilled the belief in him that C’s were unacceptable and B’s were also nothing to be proud of. As he continued to explain, this standard of academic achievement allowed him to go on to pursue graduate school, as opposed to many of his football teammates who were unable to because of their grades. In addition, Reuben had multiple family members working in the health profession, teaching him from an early age to value and care for his fellow human beings.
Reuben Faloughi, at his core, believes that all people should feel included and deserve to feel safe, both physically and mentally. Feeling somehow inferior to other people endangers that feeling of safety. As he explains, racism, sexism and homophobia are all socially constructed, which means that humans created them and humans give them power.
As Faloughi further explained, one way to combat those social structures is through education. One such course at Mizzou, a course he is set to teach himself in the spring semester, does exactly that. The class is titled Experiencing Cultural Diversity in the United States and is under the umbrella of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology within the College of Education.
“You see students from various backgrounds, with various identities, becoming aware of those identities and realizing the privilege or oppression associated with each of those identities,” Faloughi said.
Given all that has occurred this past semester on campus and the scope of the course, Faloughi believes that the course has the ability to help in the transformation of Mizzou. However, he also recognizes that some people will not be changed. He said there are people that believe Mizzou has been running the way it should since 1839, and those people aren’t going to be changed with a single conversation or a semester of protests.
“Sometimes you plant a seed and that seed grows in that moment, sometimes in a year from now, sometimes it never grows,” Faloughi said. “You just have to keep planting.”
For Reuben, specifically, some of that planting occurred in regards to homophobia when he first left for college at the University of Georgia in 2010. Growing up the Deep South, it was not uncommon to see and hear homophobic comments and jokes. Because that is the environment in which he grew up, Reuben thought that it was an acceptable form of humor. Upon going to college, he began to see how it impacted people who were a part of the LGBTQ community through a gay football teammate. When he went back home to visit, an environment where jokes about the LGBTQ community were viewed as acceptable, Faloughi found that those jokes were no longer funny or acceptable to him. This change in beliefs led to an eventual confrontation with a relative using slurs to refer to the LGBTQ community.
“It was a very difficult conversation for me, but it was very empowering, too, because I stood up for something I believed in.”
Faloughi believes, partially because of that experience, that other people can change as well. The first step is for people to look inward and examine the views held, where they originate from, and if they are helping or hurting those around them by holding those views. Then they can begin working towards changing those views that are harmful.
Throughout his work with psychology and social justice movements, Faloughi has gained a key understanding of when to make himself heard and become a leader and also when to take a step back to allow others to speak. That ability has not gone unnoticed.
“He has a critical ear,” Aliyah Sulaiman, a student who attended a campus meeting partially led by Faloughi, said, “He had an avenue and had created this space where, even if he didn’t have the answer, he had made a space for us to find one.”
For students contemplating the future at Mizzou, Faloughi has the following to say:
“It’s easy to become intimidated, to become fearful, to become polarized, especially when you look at the narratives that the media has created about Mizzou. I think it’s very important to not fear that. Walk into it boldly.”