On Mentors

I was invited to speak at the Knowledge Development Seminar (Arab Open University, Kuwait) and gave a lecture about the prevalence of madness in women’s literature. I won’t go into the academic details of the paper, as this blog is almost always personal, rather than academic. I was a bit worried about the lecture, as I have been dealing with the intricacies and inconsistencies of this condition of being human. I have been overwhelmed with exams, marking, research, and struggling with a body that refuses to behave according to my wishes and expectations. My body almost always seems to have a mind of its own, which fascinates me, because isn’t the body supposed to be controlled/regulated by the mind? But enough rambling about me.

I was lucky enough to have my friend, who used to be my professor, Hanan, prepare me for the talk. She would object and say “I didn’t prepare you, you already know it” but the truth of the matter is, every time I talk about theory with Hanan, my mind is refreshed, feels sharper, and I am able to see different sides of the argument. A literature and theory professor, Hanan has always been by my side, talking me through literature, academia, and life itself. I went from being Shahd (her student) to Dr. Shahd, more than a decade later. And I am ever so grateful that she has urged me to participate in class (when I was too shy to speak up) and today, I am able to give lectures on my own. And yet, I had to consult her before actually giving the lecture. We prepared answers for possible questions/attacks that could be presented. The counterarguments of madness, the history of madness, the institutionalization, and how do we even begin to talk about madness?

As for the lecture itself, my discussant was an amazing Professor of literature, Professor Mohiba, who has studied under wonderful theorists and critics (she had the pleasure of being around Michel Foucault himself), and was educated at a time when women were still struggling and fighting for their rights.  She has seen it all, the sixties, the seventies, up until today, where she continues to fight against injustice. She is a passionate, brilliant academic, one that I look up to and admire. I have learned so much from her, just from being around her, listening to her, and I am mesmerized by the amount of passion she has for education, for speaking up, for fighting against all forms of oppression. She reassured me that the talk would be successful, and that the paper had great potential, while simultaneously pointing me in the right direction, gently guiding me, telling me what the argument needs to be developed. Even when someone fired a question that I was unable to answer, Professor Mohiba jumped to the rescue, diving into her years of expertise, and formed a very well-rounded answer. Following her lead, I was able to pick up.

And that is the beauty of real academics, real mentors. They are your friends first and foremost, they want to see you succeed, be the very best version of yourself, and they hold your hand, while still giving you a sense of autonomy and independence. They don’t believe in spoon-feeding, they don’t believe in giving you answers, they don’t believe in making it easier for you. The real academics are the ones who push you, who criticize you, support you, and tell you that you are capable. I have been blessed with having these two very brilliant women in my life, and I have been watching and learning from them, while at the same time developing my own academic identity.

So this post is filled with gratitude. This post is about mentors being our friends, about academia, about women who support other women, about the beauty of education, and mainly, if you’re an academic reading this, I would urge you to do the same, to guide, not to lead, to support, not put down, to create, not destroy, to build, and to watch as your students grow into themselves and become leaders.

And here’s to a new semester, filled with excitement and change!

4 comments on “On Mentors

  1. Mouhiba Jamoussi says:

    Just beneath Shahd’s message I could read “Leave a reply.” I thought what reply could be eloquent enough to dare follow Shahd’s message –so poetic, so generous, so moving? When Shahd told me about the topic a few weeks ago, I got so excited. “Madness!” Who has never been mad –never been in love, never been in pain, never felt trapped?

    Shahd’s talk earlier on led us to a full discussion on madness. Could the Arab woman’s madness be different from the Western woman’s? If so how different and why? We wondered whether women, rather than men, were likely to be mad. We thought so, and went through quite a few reasons. What is “madness” anyway, and could what was discussed –the Arab woman going on a rampage at “home” or leaving home—be not madness, after all?

    So many questions came and went, and answers were not to be missed. Shahd gave us food for thought, and we later had more thoughts over food. We literally entered into a trance at the end of that powerful and inspiring talk on madness. Thank you so much Shahd.

    Mouhiba

    • Rahma says:

      Dear Shahd

      Thank you for writing this blog . It was the only search result I found while Googling Dr Mouhiba. I have been trying to get in touch with Dr Mouhiba for at least couple years.

      It is very refreshing to see other women influenced by Mouhiba Jamoussi . I must say I loved how you detailed exactly how I personally feel about my experience with Dr. Mouhiba.

      She is a role model for many young women out there and we are blessed to have had the chance to be mentored by her or even attend a semester of her lectures.

      Wishing you all the best in you career

      Best,

      Rahma

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