Finding Herself Through Film

Finding Herself Through Film

Photo of Shaundel SanchezWhat began as a class project for Shaundel Sanchez (BA, Anthropology, ’09) became a journey of self-discovery. She came to Chico State from a small town in the San Joaquin Valley—and she left here to start a career in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before moving on to an East Coast PhD program.

For Sanchez, it was an unexpected journey. “People, where I come from, we don’t [pursue doctorates],” she says.

Her life began to change dramatically while she was creating a documentary called Believing Women for an anthropology course. The film focused on a Muslim community in Chico and gave Muslim men and women the opportunity to discuss issues of gender, equality, oppression, and Islam in America.

Sanchez’s first trip to a mosque while filming had a profound effect on her, and she began going back every Friday.

“I heard the call to prayer and I thought it was singing, not recitation,” she recalls. “I thought it was beautiful. I went home and I cried about it.”

Those Fridays at the Chico Islamic Center were part of her work in methods and visual anthropology courses. Study and observation led to making friends, and about a year after her first visit, Sanchez’s experiences became less about schoolwork and more about genuine belief. And she embraced Islam.

“I really was a 20-year-old kid who had never had a religious experience,” she says. “It became more compelling; eventually, it became something I believed in. I felt it was something I was always missing.”

Sanchez’s religious transformation marked the beginning of a path of service and advocacy.

After graduation, she spent two and a half years in the UAE, where she worked as an external relations officer in Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, advocating for those with disabilities. The opportunity arose after Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, a Chico State alumna and member of the royal family of the emirate of Sharjah in the UAE, came to campus to talk about her work with charitable causes.

Soon Sanchez was on the move again, attending Syracuse University for a master’s in public administration. Now she is working in a funded PhD program at Syracuse, studying anthropology. She is focusing on learning more about citizenship and how citizens and immigrants interact in the Middle East. 

Sanchez says the quality of teaching from Chico State faculty had a positive influence on her success, adding that anthropology professors Brian Brazeal and Jesse Dizzard played huge roles in her academic growth. “I have had plenty of professors who are impressed with the training I had in my undergrad degree,” she says. “I am the first to say I had great training.”

Brazeal isn’t compelled to take much of the credit, though. “It’s her own abilities and her own perspicacity and critical acuity that have allowed her to flourish,” he says.

Leland Gordon (BA, Journalism, ’06) is an editor for CBS Interactive site, “America’s Source for High School Sports.”