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Shepherd University part of dream for international student once in hiding

ISSUED: 8 July 2013
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens
(Shepherd University part of dream for international student once in hiding)

Shepherdstown, WV--Siriki Diabate's dream to be a voice for the people has led him to study political science at Shepherd University. That dream keeps the junior going when others might quit. And that dream nearly cost him his life.

Diabate's national government was stable while he was growing up in the Ivory Coast. He finished school and completed advanced certifications.

"Everything was good, everything was right," he said. But in the mid-'90s, his once peaceful nation was wracked with political unrest, oppression, and resistance, which eventually led to a military coup and twocivil wars. The country was divided and people were afraid, he said.

Diabate worked as a translator and then a teacher. In an effort to supplement his income and to publicize what he felt were unfair government practices, Diabate took a job writing for a local newspaper in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2002.

"One of our strengths in this little newspaper was that we were part of the people, so whatever was beingsaid was reality, which was annoying the government officials," Diabate said.

Because of his newspaper stories about discrimination against and exclusion of the country's northerners, Diabate said he was targeted by the government. He went into hiding, but said he was unafraid and continued his work.

But in 2005, at a police checkpoint, Diabate said he was arrested and taken to a remote area, severely beaten and left for dead.

He survived and fled to Ghana, leaving behind his parents, siblings, and four daughters. From there he came to the United States legally as a refugee in 2007.

"I was relieved. It was a great moment in my life," he said. "I will never forget how I ended up in the U.S.A. I'm proud of that."

With the help of the Virginia Council of Churches Refugee Resettlement program, Diabate set himself up in Hagerstown, Maryland. He got a job, driver's license, and car, and earned an associate's degree from Hagerstown Community College. There he talked to Kelly Pannill, academic advisor at Shepherd, who told him that his classes would transfer and he could earn his bachelor's degree in less than two years.

Diabate became a U.S. citizen last summer. He moved to Shepherdstown and started classes at Shepherd in the fall. He credits many at the university who have helped him, including staff members in the Office of Financial Aid, the Division of Student Affairs, Residence Life, and TRiO Student Support Services.

Robin Hosby, housing assignment coordinator in Residence Life at Shepherd, met Diabate when he was looking for on-campus housing. They spent two hours talking in which he shared his story. She said she finds him passionate, kind, and caring, as well as grateful, humble, and proud.

"He is very aware of the benefits of his education and the opportunities he has been afforded since coming to this country," Hosby said. "I believe that Siriki's story and the way he lives his life taking advantage of all opportunities and not taking anything for granted is an example that we should all follow."

Diabate was selected to participate in the West Virginia Legislature's Frasure-Singleton Internship Program in March, which provides 50 students an opportunity to observe the state legislative process for one week during the regular legislative session in Charleston. He said the experience was amazing and was impressed that legislators would argue on the floor and then eat together at lunch. His internship peers selected him to give the week's closing speech on that same floor.

"I said thank you overall to Shepherd University for giving this opportunity to some international student from Africa," he said. "Being able to speak to a congress of one of the American states is a privilege. That is something that will really impact my life."

Dr. Jacob Stump, assistant professor of political science at Shepherd, is Diabate's academic advisor and said Diabate speaks with him regularly.

"It is always great for a teacher to have a student who has life experience to draw from and is driven to accomplish his goals--Siriki has both in abundance," Stump said.

Diabate plans to graduate from Shepherd in a semester or two, and then either go on to law school or get his master's in political science. He said he wants to be an advocate for refugees.

"Because of what happened to me, I have to be a voice to protect people," he said.

In his free time, Diabate enjoys reading, especially about government, playing soccer, and socializing.

"I like meeting with people, talking with them. I like learning about people," he said.

In those talks, Diabate advises never to take anything for granted, especially the opportunities in this country.

"I don't know if I'm living the American dream, but I think I'm on the path," he said. "I'm struggling, but it's because I'm dreaming, and this dream keeps hope in me."

-30-WILKIE

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Siriki Diabate

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