Senior Profile: Abraha rises to challenge, advocates for marginalized students

Graduating senior Eve Abraha is pictured. Courtesy Eve Abraha

Many seniors are excited to enter the workforce when they graduate from Tufts. They have interesting new roles, are moving to new places or are looking forward to being financially independent. Graduating senior Eve Abraha is anticipating her next steps after graduating for a different reason, though.

“I’m so excited to have a full-time job next year … I was just telling one of my friends, ‘I’m so excited to Venmo you $1,000 because it’ll make me happy, and you’ll be able to pay for your books,’” Abraha said. “[My friend] is super low-income and she knows she’s going to be struggling to pay for her textbooks next year. I can’t wait to start my job. I’m just going to send her money, and it’ll be so helpful, redistributing my resources, because I’ll have it, and it’ll be so easy for me to share.”

Abraha, who is low-income herself, carries this kindness and passion for helping others in everything she does. When Abraha first arrived at Tufts and was planning to become a doctor, she found herself struggling to keep up in many of her classes and considered leaving Tufts. After hours of meetings and self-reflection, she realized that she simply hadn’t been taught the problem solving and analytic tools she needed to succeed prior to coming to Tufts as a Black student from the Memphis, Tenn. public school system.

Looking around, Abraha saw others from similar marginalized backgrounds — Black, Latinx, low-income and first-generation students — facing the same problems as they adjusted to life at Tufts. They had received lower quality primary and secondary education than many of their peers and were struggling when instructors at Tufts didn’t acknowledge this. These realizations drove Abraha to study education.

“Now, I want to pursue education policy,” Abraha said. “I want to be a decision-maker. I want to work in a state Department of Education … [Teachers] need to learn about ethical practices and racial literacy and restorative justice practices. All of those things will help [them] work with … Black, Latinx, low-income kids who are not getting great education … I want to do prevention work so that other kids don’t have to go through what I had to go through.”

Rather than directly providing medical care for communities in need, Abraha hopes to enable thousands of students from marginalized backgrounds to become scientists, doctors and other professionals, which will ultimately help society as a whole.

“We want more diverse scientists because they have different experiences that can change science so much and make science more intentional and work more efficiently,” Abraha said.

For the past two semesters, Abraha has been putting these ideas into action through Tufts’ Pedagogical Partnership Program (P3) for Inclusive, Learner-Centered Teaching. As a student partner, she works with one course each semester to critically assess its structure and make recommendations for improvement. She also collaborates with the professor teaching the course to reach out to struggling students. Last semester, Abraha worked with professor Lauren Crowe to improve outcomes for underrepresented students in Cells and Organisms (Bio 13). Abraha said her work in the program is one of the accomplishments she’s most proud of at Tufts.

“Students are performing way better than they have in the past few years, and specifically underrepresented students have been dropping out at a significantly lower rate,” Abraha said. “The dropout rate [about] six years ago was 54% of underrepresented students and now it’s down to below 5%, which is really awesome. [Introductory biology and chemistry]  courses are [usually] the classes that show us that we’re not meant for science.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Abraha has worked for a nonprofit called Building Audacity, coordinating food distribution to over 500 families each week. Even while doing this work, Abraha searched for a way to contribute more personally.

“The area on [Massachusetts Avenue] near Boston Medical Center … is one of the major epicenters of homelessness here in Boston, and a lot of folks there are also dealing with drug addiction,” Abraha said. “I felt really weird that I was driving by these people knowing that I was going home to a fridge full of food … I decided to start making meals because I know a lot of people pass out snacks, but being a person who’s experienced a lot of food insecurity in my life, snacks are cool, but they will never make you full. You’re never focused when you’re that hungry; you’re just not happy. Understanding that snacks aren’t enough, I was like, ‘I have to make meals.’”

Since this realization, Abraha, along with a team of about 10 other volunteers, has been using her own money, supplemented with donations, to donate between 60 and 100 meals — packaged in biodegradable containers — each week to individuals in need. When delivering food, Abraha prioritizes building human connections too, taking time to speak with those she’s helping and get to know them as people. She’s working on formalizing her efforts and creating a nonprofit called Igniting Change through Compassion.

In addition to her work mentioned so far, she’s supported marginalized communities as a member of TCU Senate, drafted legislation that’s been reviewed by the Massachusetts Statehouse and done research on antibiotic use and prostate cancer. Next year, Abraha will continue her efforts to promote equity in the classroom through the New York City Teaching Fellows program, where she’ll work with systematically oppressed students as a teacher in a New York City public school and earn her master’s degree in teaching.

Despite her substantial contributions to Tufts and beyond, Abraha is consistently humble. She credits her mentors for her successes, especially Jared Smith, the director of Tufts’ FIRST Center — Abraha described Smith as “literally the biggest game changer of my Tufts career” — and Margot Cardamone, the former director of the FIRST Center. In an era defined by social and physical isolation and looking inward, Abraha draws strength from her own struggles to open herself up and give deeply to others.