My orientation towards diversity is grounded in my experiences tutoring ELL learners over the last ten years. As a volunteer with the Somali Services Coalition, I worked with high school students who, in addition to their assigned homework, were committed to developing their language skills. Later as a mentor with Giving+Learning, I supported young Somali women as they pursued higher education in nursing. And, by offering weekly language classes at the local YWCA Women’s Shelter, I worked with women from a variety of backgrounds on their language and life skills. In each of these unique environments, I observed that when we make education more accessible–to high school students, college students, and adults–we help foster both self-empowerment as well as more empathetic relationships. Attending to diversity informs all aspects of my academic identity, including my areas of research, my approach to teaching, and my service commitments.
As a scholar, I embrace diversity both in terms of my methodological and theoretical orientations as well as in my choice of subject matter. In addition to my work on North American religions– including mainstream denominations, new religious movements, and indigenous spiritualities–I have extensive training in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies and considerable fluency with Islam and history and politics in the Middle East. I approach these diverse topics by applying innovative theoretical perspectives like new materialisms and affect theory, which lend themselves to novel interpretations of the relationships between the human and the nonhuman in public life.
As an educator, I teach from a critical feminist perspective regardless of course topic in an effort to make what is often seen as the “other” present in every course unit. While students are sometimes surprised when I introduce gender or race to topics that seem initially unrelated, they quickly learn that any topic we might consider in religious studies is integrally related to questions of race and gender. I also consider my mentoring of individual students to be aligned with my feminist identity and part of my commitment to making education more accessible, particularly for students of color and first-generation college students. Students often approach me to discuss not only class content but also with questions concerning their educational and career goals.
Finally, I seek out service and public engagement opportunities that specifically intersect with feminist concerns both on campus and in my community, from more explicitly activist engagements in the forms of marches, sit-ins, and rallies to more educational opportunities like leading and participating in workshops and discussions. As a graduate student at The University of Iowa, I served on the UI Council on the Status of Women and participated in the Iowa N.E.W. Leadership Institute as well as offered workshops through a variety of community organizations that work to raise awareness and dispel misunderstandings concerning women and gender in Islam.
After graduation, I intend to continue to implement my feminist values through my research, teaching, and service as a faculty member. I am committed to attending to diverse issues in all of my classes both in terms of content but also in terms of how I approach diversity in my classroom and in my community more broadly.