ESU junior Aalih Hussein determined to make others’ lives better
As president of the East Stroudsburg University Feminist Alliance, Aalih Hussein believes the term “feminist” has gotten a bad rap.
A junior with a dual major in social work and sociology and a minor in women’s studies, Hussein is quick to challenge those who denigrate feminism.
When people say disparaging things about feminism, Hussein asks, “Do you believe in equal rights? For men and women? For people of any skin color?” Hussein adds, “To me feminism is about equal rights for everybody, for minorities, for people with gender identity issues, for the LGBT community.”
“So when people say to me, ‘Why are you a feminist?’ I say, ‘It’s because I believe men and women should be looked at with the same eyes; one is not higher than the other.”
Likewise, she takes issue with anyone who thinks being a feminist and being a Muslim are mutually exclusive.
“My religion and feminism go hand in hand,” Hussein said. “It’s about being a better person and doing what you can to make other people’s lives better. Islam teaches you to do that; it teaches you to give back. In feminism with the advocacy work that we do, you learn to give back. So to me they’re not two separate things, they’re one thing. They complement each other.”
Hussein translates that passion into action and advocacy as a member of the Student Senate and in working with such groups as the Muslim Student Association and the ESU Women’s Center where she is a work-study student. The Women’s Center houses V.O.I.C.E (Victims’ Options In Campus Environments), which is operated in conjunction with Women’s Resources of Monroe County and provides resources and support for victims of relationship violence.
Hussein helped organize ESU students to attend a candlelight vigil this fall at the Monroe County Courthouse for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
She believes that events like the vigil educate the public about the issue of domestic violence and put a human face on the statistics.
“It’s empowering for the survivors and it’s inspirational to those who want to show their support to end domestic violence,” Hussein said.
One day she hopes to become a counselor for victims of domestic violence.
Recently, Hussein has worked with the ESU Office of Student Affairs in its launch of the Meditation Center in a former faculty lounge in the Gessner building. The Meditation Center, which is open to people of all faiths, has been a gathering place for Muslim students, whose religion requires them to pray five times a day.
Hussein joined fellow student Matthew Copeland in designing and painting a mural of a sunset on a wall of the center to make the area more welcoming.
“Having worked with Aalih in establishing the Meditation Center, I can tell you she is a natural leader and an effective advocate,” said Michael Sachs, assistant vice president of Student Affairs. “Aalih was one of the leaders in making the center an inviting place; she worked hard to organize the space, helped design and paint the mural and helped spread the word about the center to the ESU community.”
Hussein credits fellow students Atiba Khan and Aiz Khawaja, president and vice president of the Muslim Student Association respectively, with being instrumental in the work with the Meditation Center. As part of the association, Hussein was a leader in putting on the Eid Mubarak dinner, an Islamic celebration in October. The event attracted members of the university and local community, filling ESU’s Keystone Room.
Hussein is also active in helping organize the annual Diwali: Festival of Lights. The Hindu festival, hosted by the campus DESI Student Organization, attracts about 200 people for a full vegetarian meal and dances.
“I’m very happy at ESU,” Hussein said. “The community here is quite diverse. It’s really rewarding. Through all the activities I’ve met wonderful people.”
She said she’s learned a lot from her advisor, Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice John Kraybill-Greggo, Ph.D. He’s passionate about social work and he really understands the field, Hussein said.
“A lot of the professors who teach social work actually practice social work so they’re able to give you hands-on experience and enhance your knowledge about the field,” she said.
At ESU, Hussein makes the most of opportunities to learn in and out of class.
“I think education is not just in a classroom,” Hussein said. “You enrich yourself by putting yourself out there. Everything I’ve been involved with has helped me grow.”