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Emad Mahou ('23) Brings His Passion for Justice to the United States and DePaul University

Emad Mahoud Headshot
DePaul evening law student Emad Mahou ('23) is a web developer at DePaul University.  Originally from Syria, he serves as Student Bar Association (SBA) treasurer; oversees the SBA's annual Diversity Week as the association's diversity committee chair; is a member of the law school's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee; and is part of the Muslim Law Student Association. Reverend Craig Mousin, DePaul University ombudsperson, describes Emad as “bringing a great curiosity and commitment to his studies, forged in his personal experience living in a nation where dictatorship eviscerated the rule of law.  Emad's personal faith commitment to justice comes from witnessing the suffering that people endure when the law fails to ensure their rights. He views the law as a path for a more just and equitable society." 

After earning his degree in architecture from the University of Damascus in Syria, Emad became one of the early leaders of the 2011 revolution against the Assad Family. As he recalls, “The Assad Family was in power for over 50 years. They had an iron grip on the country–no justice, no democracy, no freedom. Speak your mind, and you go to jail." When the peaceful revolution first presented itself, Emad remembers contemplating what his 80-year-old self would think of his current self when looking back on this pivotal moment: “Would he think I had the courage to stand up, or that I cowered?"

Emad chose activism, and it ultimately led to his arrest by the Syrian government. “I was detained for 100 days in solitary confinement," Emad remembers.  “I was tortured every single day.  It was humiliating and horrible, but I did not confess.  If I am going to die," he thought, “I am going to die by myself. I would not take someone else's life to save my own. However, one day, I had this feeling (that I attribute to God, to Allah) that I was back home sitting on my kitchen floor feeding my cat. I believed that was God telling me that I was not going to die." 

After Emad was released from captivity, he immediately went into hiding, and he was later offered asylum in the United States. Emad entered the United States with $100 and two bags, and his first job was providing wheelchair service at O'Hare Airport. He later returned to the classroom, received a degree in computer science, and ultimately joined DePaul University as a web developer for the Board of Trustees. At DePaul, he befriended Reverend Craig Mousin and fondly recalls their discussing the similarities between the Islamic and Christian faiths. 

After several years, Emad realized that computer programming was not what he truly wanted to do for a living. He saw the many injustices in the world, and he wanted to contribute to the burgeoning “Civil Rights 2.0" movement.  “I stood up peacefully for freedom in Syria. I stood up to a tyrant," he says.  “I wanted to bring the same fire I had in Syria, the rebel mentality, to the United States. The best way to do it peacefully and civilized was by becoming a lawyer." 

Emad considers being the chair of the SBA DEI Committee one of his most significant law school accomplishments. One of his goals was to shed light on often ignored topics, and he dedicated his first SBA Diversity Week to raising awareness about disparities between Native American and other communities, especially with regard to health care. He also rallied the SBA into unanimously adopting a Land Acknowledgment Statement that was even more encompassing than the university's. This semester, he is focusing on invisible disabilities, such as psychological issues. As a person who struggles with severe PTSD, Emad wants to bring those stories to the student body where they can resonate with others facing their own issues and challenges. He also worked with the law school's DEI Committee to hire more diverse faculty. 
Recently, Emad, along with a community of allies, successfully convinced the University to add a sixth race/ethnicity reporting category to the new BlueSky finance and human resources system. 
Outside of law school, Emad is devoted to his seven-year-old daughter.  Yet, even with her, he observes those same injustices that he ultimately hopes to combat. “My daughter goes to a school district with 13 students per class, and all of them have their own iPad. Less than two miles away, the schools have 36 students per class, and none of them have an iPad. That's systemic injustice at work." 
Although Emad desires to be a human rights attorney, he plans to stay in Chicago rather than move to New York or Washington, DC (the hubs for that field), for the sake of his daughter. He still plans to support human rights as much as possible by doing pro bono work, and in five years, he hopes to run for Congress.  “I want to help on a national level," says Emad.  “I believe we have so many issues, and there are smart, young people that care about our society and who can bring that discussion to the forefront. We need to unite to move forward."
Looking back on his life, Emad recognizes the importance of adapting. Following the revolution, he could not become an architect, because he was no longer that person. He feels the same about being a software engineer. He values the United States for giving him his freedom and his daughter, but he also feels he owes something to the country and its people. As he explains, “I think I have landed where I was always meant to be.  I was always meant to be a lawyer and fight for people, and my mission is to help the American people and all the people who want to come to America."