Though it wasn’t planned, a gap year taken by Sephora Dikabou, ’21, following the fall semester of her first year at La Salle University in 2016 would have a profound impact on her academic future.
A dispute with her parents—who fled the war-torn African nation of Congo when Dikabou was a baby for the neighboring country of Gabon, before arriving in Baltimore as immigrants several years later—prompted the sabbatical. With her studies suspended, Dikabou traveled to Tennessee where she stayed with an uncle and experienced what she described as a moment of self-actualization.
“I swore that I wanted to be a doctor,” said Dikabou, who entered La Salle as a biology major. “When I took that gap year in Tennessee, I saw a lot of injustices with Black lives in America and immigration. It ignited a fire for change in me. I decided that, when I got back to college, I was going to put myself on a path to help immigrants.”
Working to pay her way through La Salle, and approaching her coursework with a renewed purpose, Dikabou returned to 20th and Olney for the Spring 2018 semester. This year, she graduates as a double major in criminology and sociology with a minor in Spanish. (Dikabou is fluent in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Lingala, one of the four national languages of Congo.)
With her undergraduate coursework in those three disciplines, Dikabou has a strong foundation for advocacy on behalf of immigrants, she said. She pointed to lessons on the history of corrections, race and ethnicity from criminology, and the analysis of how different types of people think in sociology as key components of her scholarship.
Fortifying that foundation is her own lived immigrant experience.
“I know how immigration truly affects your life,” said Dikabou. “We were lucky to be able to escape the terrors of back home. Growing up in East Baltimore, which is not a great neighborhood, I saw a lot of poverty, and a lot of marginalization. I saw the separation of classes, the separation between ideas. I know what marginalized people go through on a daily basis.”
Dikabou’s immediate goals involve law school, with the intent of becoming a lawyer specializing in immigration. Looking further into her future, Dikabou has designs on a judgeship with the Supreme Court.
“God didn’t put me on this earth, didn’t allow my family to move to this country with all these opportunities, to not reach for big things like that,” said Dikabou. “I know that I get the biggest joy in life by helping someone. If I can help someone with something as big as immigration, especially as big as it is in the States right now, I’d be living everything I’ve always wanted to live. It would be my truest and biggest accomplishment.”
As Dikabou narrows her search for a law school, she has one more goal in mind: staying close to Baltimore to help her younger sisters, aged 10 and 9, as they navigate college when the time comes.
“Because I’m a first-generation student, I want to be near my sisters,” said Dikabou. “In six or seven years when they are looking into colleges, they will be learning from my experiences.”