Undergraduate Academic Affairs

April 12, 2024

Bitaniya Giday, UW junior, scholar, community organizer and poet, selected as Truman Scholar

Kirsten Atik

When University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, Provost Tricia Serio and Vice Provost and Dean Ed Taylor appeared in the Zoom room of Bitaniya Giday’s African American studies class, Giday was confused and even wondered if she was in trouble for something.

But then President Cauce excitedly announced that Giday had been selected for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, a national award recognizing past accomplishments in and future commitment to public service and leadership. Giday shouted in disbelief. Proud smiles from the administrators and Professor La TaSha Levy lit up the screen as the reality set in.

Photo of Bitaniya Giday

Bitaniya Giday, the UW’s most recent Truman Scholar, is double-majoring in political science and American ethnic studies. Giday’s future plans involve earning a Ph.D. in African American studies and a law degree and then work with and in communities toward restorative justice.Photo by Ian Teodoro

“This is an honor for the entire University,” said President Cauce. “Bitaniya was awarded this scholarship not only for her academic excellence but because she has a future shaping national policy. The work Bitaniya has done on campus and on behalf of incarcerated people to make sure they have a chance to contribute to society is making this world a better place.”

The Truman Scholarship is a highly competitive award: Only 60 students nationwide were selected this year from a pool of more than 700 candidates. Truman Scholars are selected based on their leadership skills, demonstrated civic engagement, academic potential and desire to pursue a career in public service. Scholars receive funding for graduate school as well as access to mentoring and additional benefits to help prepare them for careers that benefit the greater good.

Giday, a junior from Bellevue, WA, is double-majoring in political science and American ethnic studies (with a focus on African American studies). At the UW, she is researching incarceration, prisoner-led publications and restorative justice; is a Mary Gates Scholar and Katz Scholar; co-president of the Black Student Union; a member of the student group Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education; and documenting oral histories as part of Wa Na Wari’s Black Spatial Histories project. In between coursework she is working on an independent study project with Professor Bianca Dang and launching a book group with the Black Student Union and incarcerated individuals who are part of the Black Prisoners Caucus. The first book they plan to read is “all about love” by bell hooks.

“One of the most impressive aspects of Bitaniya’s orientation toward her academics is her investment in applying her scholarly undertakings to improving the lives of those around her,” shared Professor Bianca Dang, history professor and Giday’s mentor in her independent study. “Bitaniya continually brings what she learns in her classroom to her broader community-organizing efforts. She does so with enthusiasm and grace: She understands her academic achievements as being useable tools for collective activism rather than as indicators of her personal success. This kind of outlook is truly inspiring.”

Photo of Bitaniya Giday

Bitaniya Giday’s scholarly and community work at the UW is an extension of her community engagement that started in her earlier school years.

Giday’s future plans involve earning a Ph.D. in African American studies and a law degree and then, as she says, “leverage those tools to go back into my community and propel their work and uplift community” toward restorative justice and community healing and away from juvenile detention centers.

Her work as a UW student is an extension of Giday’s community engagement that started in her earlier school years. Giday immigrated to the U.S. with her family from Ethiopia when she was four-years-old. She started school as she was still learning English. She struggled to express herself and advocate for herself in her new language and was in school systems whose first response was often punishment, unequally applied.

Those experiences, then George Floyd’s killing in 2020 galvanized Giday into starting a grassroots collective called Eastside for Black Lives. Students from all the district’s high schools joined the collective with a specific goal of removing armed safety resource officers from schools. Those efforts morphed into a strong community-led effort to develop and establish what became the King County-endorsed Restorative Community Pathways, a program to divert youth from juvenile detention and incarceration and into positive opportunities.

Through Restorative Community Pathways, Giday gained firsthand experience in the types of support and labor involved in bringing, she explains, “one youth through a six-month program to ensure they have all the support they need to continue down a path that is productive for them.”

“It was stressful,” said Giday. “But it also brought a lot of joy because it made us realize that community does have the solutions to an issue like ending juvenile detention … and creating a working model for restorative justice.”

Image of Motherland book cover

Bitaniya Giday published her first book of poetry, “Motherland,” as Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate.

She found purpose and camaraderie in elevating voices and experiences of people who are marginalized — and in poetry. “My path into poetry is because people weren’t listening to me,” explains Giday. “But when I did poetry, people listened.” Giday served as Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate in 2021 and published her first book of poetry, “Motherland.”

That work, and more, proved foundational to her academic and community involvement at the UW. “Bitaniya is a truly impressive student leader,” says Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs. “She is an artist, storyteller and ethical leader. She brings brilliance and artistry to some of the most difficult issues of our time. All the while, she ensures the community she is serving has space to co-create their future.”

About the Truman Scholarship

Established by Congress in 1975 as a memorial to President Harry S. Truman and national monument to public service, the Truman Scholarship carries the legacy of the 33rd President of the U.S. by supporting and inspiring the next generation of public service leaders.

When approached by a bipartisan group of admirers near the end of his life, Truman asked Congress to create a living memorial devoted to this purpose, rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar monument. For more than 40 years, the Truman Foundation has fulfilled its mission to inspire and support Americans from diverse backgrounds to public service.

This year’s 60 awardees join a community of 3,564 Truman Scholars named since the first awards in 1977. Giday is the 19th UW student to receive a Truman Scholarship since the award’s inception, according to the Truman Foundation.

About the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards

The Goldwater Scholarship application process is supported by the Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards (OMSFA), a UAA program. OMSFA works with faculty, staff and students to identify and support promising students in developing the skills and personal insights necessary to become strong candidates for this and other prestigious awards.


Danielle Holland also contributed to this story.