Samaa Abdurraqib has been named Volunteer of the Year by a Portland non-profit organization dedicated to assisting victims of sexual violence. The Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, or SARSSM, presented the award to Abdurraqib, who is a visiting assistant professor in Bowdoin’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program, on Nov. 5.
The award is given to a SARSSM volunteer who has displayed outstanding leadership, service and commitment to SARSSM’s mission.
Though she has only been working with SARSSM since early 2011, Abdurraqib has distinguished herself as a volunteer with passion and generosity, according to SARSSM’s Education Program Manager Amy Raina. “[Abdurraqib] is just phenomenal because she has only been volunteering with us for a short time, but in that time she has joined our events committee to plan our Take Back the Night event in Portland, improved our education department by writing curriculum for high school and college students, and takes a regular Thursday shift for our on-call crisis support line, a shift that is hard to fill,” Raina said.
Abdurraqib also serves as an education volunteer by going into classrooms and college campuses to educate students about body safety and, for the older students, respectful dating techniques. She especially enjoys using puppets to educate elementary school students. “I love kids,” she said, smiling. “The kids stop paying attention to the person behind the puppet; it’s just amazing.”
Abdurraqib was born in New York to African-American parents who converted to Islam in the 1960’s, a time of increased awareness of racial identity and being “black and proud,” she described. Growing up in Ohio, Abdurraqib said her parents gave her a “strong sense that you are different from the people here, but that doesn’t mean you’re “˜less than.'”
“She’s just above and beyond. We love her and we want her to stay in Maine and continue her work for many years.”
-SARSSM’s Amy Raina
In particular, Abdurraqib’s mother inspired her to develop an interest in gender studies. “My mother was a very powerful feminist, though she never really named herself in that way – really outspoken, really invested in my development as a women.”
Abdurraqib started volunteering at SARSSM through planning Take Back the Night, an event held throughout cities and college campuses (including Bowdoin) to raise awareness of sexual violence and reclaim spaces where women or other individuals may feel unsafe.
It was at such an event at Abdurraqib’s undergraduate alma mater, Ohio State University, where Abdurraqib had her initial “feminist awakening,” as she called it. She attended her first Take Back the Night as a sophomore in support of her friend who had been sexually assaulted. “It was amazing for me,” Abdurraqib said of the experience.
At this point, the relationship between race and gender became clearer for Abdurraqib. She started thinking about “people who were vulnerable – injustices that make people feel less than whole, less than human.” As she marched, she saw women of all races and ages coming together to stand up against sexual violence. Many were homeless. “It made me realize how this affects women across the board,” she said.
Since then, Abdurraqib has focused her studies on gender and race politics and sexual violence. An English major with a minor in gender and women’s studies, Abdurraqib took several years off after graduating Ohio State to work in a domestic violence shelter. She earned her PhD from the University of Madison-Wisconsin and is now working her first job at Bowdoin College, where she has been an assistant professor for three years.
Though Abdurraqib says she loves her work in academia, she also likes to remain involved in volunteer and awareness work. “In general, I need to be doing something other than academia. Activism is very important to me,” she said.
SARSSM is glad to have a volunteer with not only an academic background in sexual violence, but also with a sincere desire to help others. “She’s just above and beyond,” concluded Raina. “We love her and we want her to stay in Maine and continue her work for many years.”
Story by Margot Howard ’13