Editor’s Note November 4, 2022: An earlier version of this article referenced the position established by the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life as the “Muslim Spiritual Advisor.” This was incorrect. The position is actually titled the “Muslim Life Advisor,” and the article and headline have been corrected to reflect this.
Last week, Sulwan Ahmed ’22 returned to campus as the newest member of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life’s staff. In her new position as Muslim Life Advisor, Ahmed will work to support and enhance Muslim student experiences on campus.
The part-time position mirrors those of Hillel Advisor Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor and Catholic Student Union Advisor ??Anne Theriault and aims to “provide [students] with spiritual support and guidance throughout the academic year” and advise the Muslim Student Alliance (MSA).
The new position, while still in the making, arrives in the wake of Muslim students’ expressed frustrations with how the College handled Ramadan last Spring. Last May, Yusur Jasim ’25 wrote an op-ed for the Bowdoin Orient outlining these concerns.
“This was my first Ramadan away from my family, so I knew it was not going to be easy, but I wasn’t expecting Bowdoin to make it harder for me,” Jasim wrote.
Jasim expressed excitement about the idea of a paid position designed to support Muslim students and help them have a stronger voice on campus.
“I’m excited that the position exists now, because there’s a Muslim population that does not feel they are protected on campus,” Jasim said. “Student-led work is very positive, but also having someone who, this is their job … makes things more organized. I feel like having someone who has actually more power is a very positive thing.”
Eisa Rafat ’25, co-president of the MSA, shares this excitement. Although he thinks Bowdoin has a long way to go, he is looking forward to this effort to institutionally support Muslim students.
“When we heard about it, we were really excited, because in our eyes, [Ahmed is] somebody that just went through the four years here, has gone through similar situations and has … a general better understanding of how to navigate this space,” Rafat said.
Rafat spoke of the taxing nature of being in MSA leadership and what it means to be able to share the work with an experienced, paid advisor.
“The first time it hit me … that’s when I started to understand how much of a burden this has been,” Rafat said. “Let’s find a healthy balance.”
Director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life Oliver Goodrich has high hopes for what this new position will bring to campus, especially given Ahmed’s experience as a Bowdoin student.
“She knew first-hand through her own experience that our Muslim students at Bowdoin would benefit from having such a position, and she had been vocally advocating for such a position. So in some ways, she was the ideal person to approach when it came time to actually hire someone into this role,” Goodrich said. “I really want her role to be about supporting Muslim students”
With two percent of campus identifying as Muslim, there are three to four dozen students on campus who identify as Muslim, according to Goodrich.
Goodrich and Rafat—along with three other students, two professors, two dining staff, Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze and Director of Residential Life and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Whitney Hogan—are part of a newly formed Ramadan Accomodations Working Group. The group is still in a developmental stage, but it hopes to release information about new changes and accommodations soon.
Goodrich hopes that Muslim students will feel served and supported by these new resources.
“I think it’s been really important for so many stakeholders from across campus to be at the table with each other and to build better relationships. The closer relationships have led to better understanding. And I am confident that the outcome of the conversations will be a more inclusive Bowdoin for everybody, and especially for our Muslim students,” Goodrich said.