2016 Unsung Heroine Award Winner

Yossra Hamid is a member of the graduating class of 2016, majoring in Computer Science and minoring 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.

Her nominator wrote, “Yossra has strived in the face of adversity in order to provide safe spaces, equality, and access to her other female students. Though she herself has a workload that would make anyone tired, it did not stop her from making sure that Muslim women here at Duke were being provided for, both spiritually and mentally.

This year there have been many programs dedicated to women, specifically Muslim women, that were spearheaded by Yossra as the Muslim Student Association President. One of the most controversial and impactful changes that Yossra championed, with support from her MSA colleagues, was ‘gender adjacent Friday prayers.’  Friday prayers, or Jummah, as it is known in the Muslim community, take on many forms. For a large majority of Muslim women, when in a mixed gender setting, they 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 in to these less than suitable spaces when praying. 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, 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.”

About her contributions to Duke, one of the award committee members added, “I am beyond impressed by Yossra's commitment to working within her community to create space for women to celebrate their faith and participate in prayer on their own terms. Further, it takes great strength to engage people where they are and work in direct cooperation with people who must be involved in the decision-making process but who might not share one's views. After reading about her successes, I think Yossra is a perfect candidate for this award.”