McGill sociology graduate studies await Alsaffar
Muslim student hopes she can return to Middle East and teach in a discipline currently not strongly represented on college faculties.
Saint Michael’s College student Dina Alsaffar ’20 says that learning more about the world and societies through sociology was a light bulb for her, and she wants to bring that light to people living in Middle Eastern countries, where sociology scholarship is less common than in North America.
Alsaffar has been accepted into a graduate school program at McGill University in Montreal, with a complete scholarship providing full funding for the duration of her four years there. In her words, she will be researching “how American Muslims navigate their lives in the west and how their experiences are influenced by gender, immigration, race, ethnicity and so on …There are a lot of different aspects to this type of research I want to do.”
In her research on this topic, Alsaffar draws on her own experiences growing up as a Muslim in Vermont, where the Muslim population is small.
“Vermont is very homogenous in its population,” Alsaffar explains. It’s common to experience microaggressions every now and then. I’ve been told my English is ‘surprisingly very good,’ I’ve also been called ‘exotic’ quite a number of times, and don’t get me started on how many times I’ve heard ‘no …. where are you FROM from’ … I think studying sociology here really helped me understand my own experiences and it provided me the right tools to navigate where my passions and interests lie.”
Alsaffar would hope to use the eventual doctorate that she has set her sights on to become a professor herself and bring more scholarship in sociology to the Middle East. “I lived in Kuwait for a while, and my mother is a math professor at the American University in Dubai, and when I went to visit, there was only one sociology professor in their entire school of arts and sciences.”
Alsaffar said she decided to apply to McGill because of its great reputation for research, large and well-regarded sociology department, and plethora of great opportunities. Though she applied to other schools as well, McGill ended up being her first acceptance in late January. Alsaffar was one of only 10 people accepted to the program she applied to, and that acceptance for her came with a full four-year scholarship.
“If I didn’t get into sociology here at Saint Michael’s I don’t know what I would have done,” Alsaffar says. “The sociology department here is small in comparison to other bigger schools, but that hasn’t been a hindrance in any way because we have really good professors here and I do better when I form connections with my teachers.” Alsaffar has nothing but kind words and appreciation for sociology Professors Vincent Bolduc and Robert Brenneman. “Professor Bolduc was the first sociology professor I ever had, and he inspired me to get into sociology in the first place. He always encouraged me and told me that I had good ideas,” she says. When deciding to apply to go to graduate school, Professor Bolduc told her “I wouldn’t recommend all people get PhDs in sociology, but you I would, because I know you can and you will do something with it.”
Alsaffar completed independent research with Professor Brenneman during the summer of 2019, focusing on race and ethnicity within her own Mosque community, and this research inspired her to continue working on related topics and to apply to graduate school to do that. “Professor Brenneman was really there for me throughout the whole research process—he encouraged me to apply for the VPAA summer research grant, he took the time to engage in an independent study with me, he helped me narrow down my ideas and figure out what exactly I wanted to focus on, and now I feel ready to go further in my interests when I go to McGill,” she says. “He’s been a big part of my decisions and without him I still wouldn’t know what I want to do, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten into McGill.” She thanks her professors for “having a lot of faith in me … they didn’t hold my hand, so to say, but rather they pushed me and challenged me to be better and I’m really thankful for that.”