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!