Philsan Isaak was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Yosseph Isaak and Nimo Ahmed—immigrants from Hargeisa, Somalia. In 1988, both of Philsan’s parents fled Somalia due to the escalating civil war and Isaaq Genocide. In 1999, after over a decade apart, they reunited in Minnesota, where they married and settled down. Inspired by her parents’ determination to create a better life for their children, Philsan became committed to using the law as an instrument to create further positive change for future generations.
From a young age, Philsan found community with her multicultural peers. She completed her early years of schooling at an Islamic school where nearly the entire student body was made up of New Americans from different regions. It was in this space that Philsan came to understand the value in unabashed intellectual curiosity and diverse perspectives. Additionally, although she did not share her parents’ career interest in healthcare, Philsan’s parents modeled true passion and commitment and she strove to find something that she was equally as passionate about. Philsan’s multilingual and multicultural upbringing fostered an interest in international relations and, ultimately, international law.
At 16, Philsan began full-time enrollment at the University of Minnesota. As she learned more about the sociopolitical factors that contribute to genocide and forced displacement, she began to see her parents’ experiences in a new light. Their experiences no longer seemed like horrifying exceptions to the rule; they were examples of a covert system of human rights abuses.
Philsan was guided by two incredible mentors at the University of Minnesota—Lisa Hilbink and Gabrielle Ferrales, who encouraged her intellectual curiosity and passion to make a difference. Under their mentorship, she conducted research on the Darfuri Genocide, and edited and published a student-magazine with articles that covered conflicts all across Latin America. Philsan continues to seek out opportunities that might allow her to help shed light on human rights abuses that are frequently disregarded by mainstream media.
Philsan completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota at just 18. Eager to learn the law and its role in rectifying rights violations globally, she immediately began at Yale Law School, where she is among the youngest JD candidates in attendance.