Newsy Journalist Noor Tagouri speaks at SBCC Garvin Theater

DELANEY SMITH, Channels Staff

Noor Tagouri, a journalist and self-proclaimed social activist, was greeted with applause after she took the stage Wednesday afternoon in the Garvin Theater.

Tagouri’s lecture was the 27th of the Leonardo Dorantes Memorial Lecture series, a tradition at City College since 1991. The lectures held each year are in memory of Leonardo Dorantes, a City College student and mexican immigrant who died in a race related tragedy in November of 1990.

“Whenever I hear my introduction I always get goosebumps because I never thought I could achieve my dreams while remaining my authentic self,” Tagouri said. “I always thought I had to be someone else.”

The lectures are sponsored by the SBCC Foundation and are meant to “heighten the understanding of racial and ethnic differences and shared commonalities in Santa Barbara.” Tagouri’s talk did exactly that.

Tagouri took the stage following a brief introduction by Dr. Christopher Johnson, the dean of Student Support Services, DSPS and EOPS.

Tagouri started the lecture off with a game of “if you really knew me,” where she became vulnerable with her experiences as a Muslim right off the bat. The audience of some 250 people were involved by anonymously writing something about themselves on a note card which Tagouri read aloud at the end of the lecture.

“If you really knew me, you’d know that the only time I ever prayed as a kid was when I would sit in class and I would pray to God that my mom would forget to wear her headscarf when she came to pick me up,” Tagouri admitted.

This was one of many examples Tagouri gave of the shame she experienced about her own identity growing up. She shared about her refusal to wear a hijab until the age of 15 and how she pretended to celebrate Christmas to fit in with her predominantly Christian classmates. She even dyed her hair blonde and wore colored contacts to hide her dark features.

As she shared her childhood experiences, many audience members nodded their heads in resonation, and some even teared up. But soon, her story took an inspiring turn when she left high school and started college.

“The first day of college, I made a promise to myself,” she said. “I am going to take on any and everything that I am even remotely interested in. Most of what I loved and was drawn to I had suppressed for so many years.”

Tagouri found a love for storytelling and received a full ride scholarship to a journalism school through work at her local city college. Before starting at her new school, she was offered an internship at CBS radio where her journey to becoming the first hijabi journalist on commercial U.S television began.

“That was the first moment that it finally hit me,” she said. “I knew that even though this was something I was always told would be impossible, that this is what I was meant to do.”

Tagouri shadowed dozens of famous journalists such as Anderson Cooper, and she sent hundreds of emails reaching out and trying to make herself known. She applied to dozens of journalist jobs, but rarely got hired due to the fact her hijab could potentially drop ratings.

She never gave and eventually get hired at a small news station in Maryland. Her reporting took off from there and gave her a platform to make a difference in bigger issues.

Tagouri shared her many achievements outside of journalism and combatting islamophobia. She has made a huge impact on women’s rights issues such as her clothing line, #TheNoorEffect, a line that empowers women and combat sex trafficking. She also has a television series, “A Woman’s Job,” which profiles women who are thriving in a male-dominated job/field.

In the question and answer format at the end of the lecture, Tagouri was asked by an audience why she continued to keep her hijab on despite all of the obstacles it created for her. She answered:

“It was the one thing that finally gave me a sense of empowerment. In general, embracing your identity whether it be a hijab, coming out of the closet, having purple hair, or whatever else you feel identifies you, is what gives you the sense that when you go out in the world, you are exactly who you are and people around you just have to accept it.”