Being an academic woman in Egypt is difficult, Mona Ahmed Ashour said. But being an academic woman studying feminism in Egypt is nearly impossible, she said.
Ashour is a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Santa Fe College. She used to be a professor of English and English Literature in August 2019 at Ain Shams University in Cairo. This semester, Ashour is teaching Santa Fe’s African humanities class as well as its world religions class. And she will stay in Gainesville for the academic year.
After completing her 2019 doctoral thesis in Egypt on ecofeminism, the relationship between women and nature, Ashour applied to the Fulbright scholarship program at Santa Fe, which allows American colleges and universities to host scholars from around the world. Scholars also teach courses, guest lecture and build relationships with the local community.
Ashour was originally selected for the scholarship position in early 2019, but she had to postpone the trip because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as she is attempting to adjust to life in Florida, she said she feels supported by the Santa Fe community.
“I’m struggling at this point, a little bit, to be alone here all the time. Actually, many, many American professors are calling me all the time, and taking me to the faculty and to the supermarket and to many places here in Gainesville,” Ashour said.
She said she is also adjusting to the many cultural differences, including the way women in academics are often treated.
“…To be a woman who has some kind of academic position in Egypt, or in any Arab country, is not easy at all, because women are somehow in Arab societies still being dealt with as someone different, someone that should be kept under a certain limit,” Ashour said.
Ashour said when she told her advisor she was going to study feminism for her doctorate, he warned her it might negatively affect her way of thinking.
“He told me, ‘Be careful, because this is going to be so bad for you, if you’re going to be affected by their ideas,’” Ashour said.
She chose the program at Santa Fe because it would allow her to continue her research and build connections with American professors.
“They may ask me about the Egyptian culture, and we exchange experiences,” Ashour said.
Ashour co-teaches African humanities with Sarah Cervone, associate professor of humanities at Santa Fe. Cervone said Ashour has been able to offer a diverse point of view for students.
“I’ve been teaching it by myself for almost a decade, and so the opportunity to collaborate with her has been great for me as well as for the students,” Cervone said.
Cervone said African humanities gives students a broad overview of expressive mediums such as film, poetry and literature as they relate to Africa.
“If I’m presenting something about specific phenomena like ancient empires, then [Ashour] can take the students much deeper into Egypt specifically,” Cervone said.
Ashour also teaches a contemporary world religions class with Jason McCombs. He said she has taught him about Egyptian culture and her experience as a professor.
“It’s not just having another person — which is always good to have a different perspective, as most classes aren’t co-taught — but a cross-cultural perspective,” McCombs said.
Ashour said she has enjoyed getting to know the students at the college, and she is excited to continue teaching this semester.
“My experience with Santa Fe College is just amazing. I have encountered many wonderful instructors, professors, and the students are so critically thinkers,” Ashour said.
Contact Eve Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evealanaa.
Eve Thompson is a third-year journalism major covering Santa Fe. In the past, Eve was a News Assistant on the university desk. When she’s not submitting public records requests or staring at a blank Google doc, Eve can be found on a boat, usually listening to 70s music.