LAU and its Institute for Women’s Studies salute founding director Julinda Abu Nasr
The university pays tribute to its former student, educator and administrator, and names a documentation center after her.
From left: Lina Abirafeh, current director of IWSAW, Myriam Sfeir, assistant director of IWSAW and managing editor of Al-Raida, Julinda Abu Nasr, President Jabbra.
Students, professors, and staff of LAU, both current and former, gathered in the Riyad Nassar Library on the Beirut campus on Friday evening to pay homage to the founding director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW), Julinda Abu Nasr. “She has been a pioneer in more ways than we can imagine,” said the Institute’s fifth and current director Lina Abirafeh of the alumna (B.A.’ 55) whose many achievements include the establishment of the early childhood education program at LAU (then Beirut University College).
Students of the program benefited from hands-on experience at the university’s daycare center, which Abirafeh attended for a few months as a child. “I have been following your footsteps for a long time,” she said to Abu Nasr. “I have big shoes to fill.”
Abu Nasr has certainly trodden the road less travelled, and that evening she and many of her former colleagues shared a number of anecdotes with the men and women who gathered to honor her dedication, perseverance and hard work that impacted the lives of women across the region and societal divides.
“Julinda believed in the empowerment and development of women long before they became buzzwords,” said LAU alumna Ghena Ismail, who worked with Abu Nasr at the Institute in the 1990s. “The office was a vibrant space open to new ideas and people, transcending sect, age, and race. It brought together scholars and laypersons free from discrimination.”
Reflecting on the strong roots and vision of both the university and the Institute, President Joseph G. Jabbra spoke of the importance of the many initiatives and programs that strive toward gender equality in the region before handing Abu Nasr a glass trophy in honor of her considerable contribution. “We salute you, Julinda, for what you did, and [former university president] Riyad Nassar for all you did to ensure its success.”
The former LAU president then took to the podium to speak of his admiration for Abu Nasr’s resilience, efficiency and innovation. “Despite the war, she worked hard, with integrity and to high standards,” he said. “The Institute became a strong arm of the university in advocating women’s rights… and there is no better reward for such creative people than to see their creation cherished by future generations.”
Among the women who nurtured IWSAW was its fourth director Samira Aghacy, a professor of English and comparative literature who, like Abu Nasr, continued to teach while at the helm. “Julinda is an outstanding woman with boundless energy,” said Aghacy. Referring to the proverbial saying and motto of Abu Nasr’s school “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” she added: “Julinda is a woman who has lit many candles.”
Declarations of admiration and compliments were plentiful throughout the event, and, as an expression of gratitude, the women and gender collection at the Library, which includes more than 8,000 books and is housed on the 5th floor, was named after Abu Nasr. “We want Julinda’s work to be immortalized so generations to come know of her contributions to LAU, to women and to society,” said Abirafeh, during the surprise announcement.
The collection was initiated by the Institute in 1975 under Abu Nasr’s leadership, as was IWSAW’s flagship journal al-Raida (Arabic for “The Pioneer”) the following year. An article in its first issue notes that the newly established documentation center housed in the university library included more than 600 books about women and gender.
Abu Nasr spoke warmly about the journal, the books and all the programs she initiated and engaged in. Following a recital of various humorous and heart-warming highlights from her 25 years as director of the Institute, she asked her former colleagues, many of whom remain dear friends, to stand up among the crowd. “This is a true honor to all of them.”