Anthropology doctoral candidate Zahirah Suhaimi chose to attend UC Santa Cruz for its creative and cutting-edge research, radical activism, and a collaborative atmosphere.
Suhaimi spent most of her life in Singapore where she attended Ngee Ann Polytechnic and received a diploma in Biomedical Sciences, Nanyang Technological University where she earned her B.A. in sociology, and received an M.A. in cultural anthropology from UCSC.
Now a Ph.D. student with over a dozen grants and awards under her belt, Suhaimi is interested in behavioral and ecological patterns, the stories underlying them, and how they are significant for community resilience and development.
“Since being at UCSC, I’ve had the opportunity to undertake interdisciplinary training in critical theory and participate in numerous emerging research initiatives on campus, as well as with partner universities around the world,” Suhaimi said.
Her current work examines environmental changes such as coastal development, climate change, and harmful algal blooms that are impacting human and nonhuman communities in the Johor Straits. Working alongside marine scientists and coastal communities, Suhaimi explores how local knowledge and experience of changes to seagrass meadows, microbial ecologies, mangrove forests, and engineered hydrologies can enrich academic understanding of drastic changes in ecological states.
Suhaimi was awarded the Dr. Midori Arima Scholarship in Anthropology in 2022. The scholarship has helped Suhaimi offset childcare costs, allowing her to focus on completing her dissertation by June 2023.
The Dr. Midori Arima Scholarship in Anthropology was created to honor the legacy of Dr. Arima by awarding scholarships to those completing their studies despite significant obstacles.
Arima began her higher education in California in community college, later transferring to UC Santa Cruz, where she discovered her love of anthropology in a course on Native North America taught by Professor Triloki Nath Pandey. A non-traditionally aged student with children, Arima went on to conduct field research in Japan, eventually earning her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stanford University while in her mid-sixties.
Since her first quarter at UC Santa Cruz, Suhaimi has witnessed and participated in several student-led organized actions to demand a moratorium on tuition hikes, fair wages, better healthcare and childcare, environmental protection, indigenous rights, justice against anti-Black racism, and safety on campus.
“Coming from a place where public organizing and protest is illegal, participating in my first march across campus was memorable,” Suhaimi said. “I felt grateful for the opportunity to dissent and to know that we had the support of faculty and administrators, some of whom marched with us.”
Suhaimi encourages incoming students to explore everything that Santa Cruz has to offer.
“Enjoy the natural environments of the forests, ocean, meadow, and tide pools. Participate in the many social, intellectual, and artistic events available on and off campus,” Suhaimi said. “Take a class outside of your major or specialization just because it sounds interesting and different.”