by Andrew Shurtleff
unity students passions
Mary Rassekh seeks to heal the worlds wounds.
a college student, she explored the ills of racism, poverty, disease
and despair. As a graduate, she plans to do something about them.
tall order, perhaps. But that doesnt discourage her.
21, who wrote her senior thesis on the economic and social burden
of malaria, is receiving an interdisciplinary bachelors
degree in biology, sociology and psychology.
in Canada to parents of Persian extraction an American
father and a Malian mother Rassekh grew up in West Africa,
in Senegal, Gambia and Mali, where her parents still live. At
12, she enrolled in high school at the Maxwell International Bahai
School, in Victoria, British Columbia.
in Persia in 1844, this peace-loving, independent religion values
diversity while viewing unity as a reachable ideal. It encourages
believers to pursue justice and understanding. Rassekhs
Bahai faith has colored her view of the world and molded
her four years at the University.
passion is unity, she said.
entered U.Va. at 16, serving on the First-Year Councils
Women and Diversity Affairs Council and the next fall, worked
with University Union to bring Coretta Scott King, the widow of
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to Charlottesville. She also worked
with Brothers United Celebrating Knowledge and Success to organize
Reflections on Complexions, a campus forum on race.
And she served as the production assistant for Spectrum Theatres
production of Romeo and Juliet, which featured a racially
participated in a myriad of cultural groups on Grounds and was
a member of the Mahogany dance troupe. She also has helped organize
a number of special programs on Grounds that have brought students
from all backgrounds together, including a prayer vigil on the
Lawn the night of Sept. 11.
her second year at U.Va., Rassekh took a leave of absence to travel
throughout the southern U.S. by herself, driving a used car. She
spent time in a Cherokee community in Oklahoma and lived with
Bahai families while organizing retreats for college students
to discuss issues of gender and race.
returning to U.Va., she decided that her path led to medicine,
so she packed her third-year schedule with pre-med classes and
took her MCATs. During last years winter break, she visited
her family in Bamako, Mali, and worked with a research project,
funded by the National Institutes of Health, that is seeking to
develop a vaccine against malaria.
is important because it allows humanity to demonstrate its potential,
Rassekh said. And health is a concrete contribution that
I can make to humanity as I strive to make unity through diversity
she received acceptance letters from several medical schools,
Rassekh has decided to postpone going for two years and first
pursue a masters degree in international public health at
Johns Hopkins University. There, she hopes to contribute to research
at its Malaria Research Institute before continuing her studies
in medical school.
so, becoming a doctor will be only a milestone on Rassekhs
path, not her destination.
a tool in a larger framework of what I want to do with my life,
she said. To bring unity among the diverse peoples of the
world, that is what I live for.