The Unsung Heroine Award recognizes a woman who has demonstrated extraordinary dedication to issues that face women at Duke or in the larger community, but whose efforts have not received formal recognition.
2016 Award Winner: Yossra Hamid
Yossra Hamid is a member of the graduating Class of 2016, with a major in Computer Science and a minor in Arabic. She has been involved in the Muslim Students Association throughout most of her time at Duke, as Civic Engagement Chair as well as President. She has also served as a Resident Assistant for three years in Jarvis and Keohane.
From Yossra’s nomination:
Yossra Hamid served as President of the Muslim Student Association for the 2015-16 academic year. In this role, she spearheaded many programs dedicated to women, striving to provide safe spaces, equality and access to her peers. One of the biggest, most controversial, and impactful changes that she championed, with support from her MSA colleagues, was “gender adjacent Friday prayers (Jummah).” A majority of Muslim women, when in a mixed gender setting, must pray behind the men. In many mosques, women are relegated their own spaces to pray. Too often, these spaces are not adequate for the women. Many of the Muslim women who have come to Duke have emotional and mental scars from being forced into these less than suitable spaces for prayer. When they come to Duke, they don’t come to prayers because of their previous anxieties and the desire to not feel “less than” their male counterparts. Yossra, hearing the pain of her sisters, implored her fellow Muslims to try arranging Jummah a different way. Rather than having women sit behind the men, she asked, “Why not side by side?” She held discussion sessions to listen to the community and even sent out a poll in order to let all have a voice. The community responded positively, and Duke is now one of the few Muslim communities where women do not pray behind the men. To an outside observer this seems like a small problem with an easy fix. However, changing the prayer space in many communities is a huge taboo. Yossra was able to get the space changed with little to no resistance, which speaks to her ability to lead the community with a gentle but firm hand.
In addition, Yossra also arranged two all female jummah’s this year. These are even more rare than having a Friday prayer where men sit next to women. Having a prayer space where only women were allowed, where they were able to make the call to prayer, hear a sermon for themselves, and pray without having to consider their juxtaposition to men, was extremely powerful. Women did not want to leave the space. They had never experienced something like it before and probably never will once they leave this campus. The healing that happened within that space was amazing.
Yossra has always pushed her fellow female students to write sermons for Friday prayers, to take positions of power in different organizations, and to make their voices heard. She strives to make the Muslim community at Duke as inclusive as possible. Her work has not gone unnoticed by people in the greater Muslim community, and people are often in awe of her tenacity and strength.