Indiana State University Newsroom

Graduate students create organization empowering, educating about Arab women

May 28, 2013

Indiana State University student Ohud Alfaleh vividly remembers when a man asked her why she was pursuing a graduate degree if she could not work in her home country.

She was taken aback by his assumptions and stereotypes.

Alfaleh, who is from Saudi Arabia and pursuing her master's degree in human resource development, is among a group of women at Indiana State who have created the Yes Women organization. The organization is dedicated to confronting stereotypes and misinformation while empowering Arab women to take on leadership positions. The group boasts members who are women from multiple countries pursuing their masters and doctoral degrees who also have taken on leadership roles in different organizations. In Yes Women, they are addressing misconceptions many people have about women and cultures from different parts of the globe.

"These are things that we need to educate people about," Alfaleh said, "because most of them have no idea about women in Saudi Arabia [and other Persian Gulf countries], how they live, how they interact with others, things like that."

The group was formed by a core group of Indiana State students who would occasionally get together. As they started gathering more frequently, the students discussed the potential of starting a student group, which they did earlier this spring. The organization also provides a support system for its members.

"Some women here, they've had problems to work with men, and some men, they don't believe in women," said Ola Alalwan, president of Yes Women and Indiana State student from Saudi Arabia pursuing her Ph.D. in educational administration. "We want to prove that women can work, and can say ‘Yes, Women, we can do what you don't imagine that we can do.'"

Group members have regularly taken on leadership roles in campus organizations. This spring, the Center for Global Engagement awarded Yes Women member Safeya Alameri with the Student Global Scholar and Citizenship Award, while Yes Women member Amal Daqnah received the center's Community Engagement Award. The Center for Global Engagement honored the graduate students for their efforts in promoting cultural awareness and encouraging women to actively engage in campus life."I can say it's just wonderful, because I can say I've seen them rise up literally from nowhere to a level of self-empowerment," Zachariah Mathew, associate director of the Center for Global Engagement, said of the new organization. "Not only that, it was also they just wanted to make sure they gave this opportunity to others a well."

Several group members this spring volunteered and attended a conference in Chicago that included speakers from Saudi Arabia who have been successful in the U.S. Several students volunteered at the conference, with Indiana State student Taghreed Majrashi, who is from Saudi Arabia and pursuing her master's degree in curriculum development, writing an article about the conference.

"They studied here and they talked about their experience and how they succeed here in the United States," Majrashi said of the conference presenters. "It gives you hope you can do anything you want."

Since coming into official formation earlier this spring, the group already has developed several programs for the Indiana State community to learn more about the organization. During a recent year-end reception for Indiana State's Center for Global Engagement, the group had an interactive cultural exhibit where Yes Women members had clothing and other items from their home countries.

The different items helped create conversations about women's experiences in different nations, said Pam Tabor, international student advisor at Indiana State who helped organize the reception.

"Different cultures have different challenges when it comes to women's empowerment in leadership," said Tabor, "and so I think this is a fabulous thing that they are doing."

The Yes Women organization features students from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria and United Arab Emirates, among other countries. Group members also teach each other about their experiences, in addition to the general public.

"I am so delighted that it truly is an international organization, because there are such different experiences that women have from different parts of the world," Tabor said, "and being able to share that and learn from one another is a unique opportunity."

Several Yes Women members have seen the group form just as they are preparing to graduate. Nassira Nouioua, a master's student in linguistics from Algeria who will be graduating in May, has enjoyed her experience and looks forward to the group's future.

"As you know, stereotypes, they don't do right things for people, so it is good to break this here," Nouioua said, "and make the world, first at ISU and then it spreads all over, to know that Arab women are capable, are able, are talented to do so many different things."

It has been exciting to see Yes Women develop so much in a relatively short time, said Mathew, who is currently the group's advisor. Yes Women is looking to branch out, with Alalwan looking into establishing chapters at other universities. The group is also hoping to create leadership development programming, he said.

Many of the Yes Women members have been active in other organizations at Indiana State and Terre Haute. For Alameri, a graduate student from the United Arab Emirates who is pursuing her master's in public health, the different opportunities has helped her learn about students from numerous countries, including the U.S.

"It's a good opportunity," Alameri said, "By meeting and by getting involved in these activities, they will be remembered more than just reading about a culture or something."

Photo: (ISU/Rachel Keyes)Several members of Yes Women talk with another attendee at the international awards banquet at Indiana State University this spring. The group boasts members who are women from multiple countries pursuing their masters and doctoral degrees who also have taken on leadership roles in different organizations.

Photo: (Submitted photo)People attending a coffee hour event hosted by students in the Yes Women organization at Indiana State University this spring.

Photo: (Submitted photo)Two members of the Yes Women organization at Indiana State University pose during a coffee hour event hosted by the group this spring.

Photo: (ISU/Rachel Keyes)A Yes Women member poses at the international awards reception at Indiana State University this spring.

Media Contact and Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or