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Shaima Abdullah

By Severina Scott
PhD Student in Women's Studies and History

When Shaima Abdullah came to Michigan, her interest was in the university's Arab and Muslim American Studies program. "I wanted to learn about our historical and cultural presence in this country, as well as what our possible future looks like here," she conveys. "Having that knowledge allows me to protect myself [and] my family, and validate our existence."

While Shaima maintains her interest in Arab and Muslim American Studies—she'll pursue a minor in the field—she plans to declare a major in Women's Studies. It was through her first Women's Studies course, Arab American Feminism with Professor Charlotte Karem Albrecht, that she began to develop her feminist consciousness. “I found my voice in my first Women’s Studies class. I felt heard in my first Women’s Studies class. I wasn’t just absorbing knowledge like in my other classes, but actually producing it. I was able to use a feminist lens to narrate my own personal stories and have them legitimized by my peers in mutual solidarity. I was able to find a community in my Women’s Studies class as we resisted, listened, and cared for one another.”

When she is not in class, Shaima is a program coordinator for CommonGround, a group on campus that designs workshops to “raise awareness about social identities (race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.), prejudice, stereotyping, power, privilege, and oppression."  Through her experience as a coordinator, Shaima appreciates having access to its program directors, professors, and administrators.  For her, they are role models who are able to commit social justice knowledge to practice. She admits that she continually struggles to connect feminist theory with activism, but is coming to terms with how “our practices and lived experiences informs theory. {I’m] thinking through the theory/ practice divide.”
 
Shaima’s commitment to working through theory and praxis shows in her activist work.  She shares, “Women’s Studies taught me to think more about power relations, [and] feminism has taught me to envision what an inclusive space looks like.” She says that women’s studies classes allow her to “talk about actual oppression and gender discrimination. When you talk about it and become more aware of it, it pushes you to commit to it and put it into practice.”  She works to build inclusive spaces in the organizations she is involved in, including Students4Justice, Queer People of Color Coalition, and the Revolutionary Youth Alliance in the Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti area.
 
In her future, Shaima envisions doing further research on her academic interests and eventually pursuing graduate school. She shares, “If I’m being ambitious, [I would like to] assist in research with a Women’s Studies instructor, and maybe then do my own independent research on how to envision a feminism that’s culturally specific to the context of Yemeni-American communities. I'd like to work on how to make feminism accessible to [these communities], how it can imagine the redistribution of power through horizontal means of reciprocity/mutuality, and how we can talk about feminism without the language of modernity and development." She adds, "I have so many questions, I can’t imagine not going to graduate school and trying to answer them professionally.”

Posted November 3, 2017