Turning adversity into opportunity, WMU social work student ready to make a difference

Contact: Erin Flynn

Khadejah Al Muhaisin is among more than 800 WMU students who received degrees Saturday, June 27. Read about how Career and Student Employment Services is helping connect students to career opportunities here.

A photo of Khadejah Al Muhaisin.

Khadejah Al Muhaisin

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A passionate advocate for social justice, Western Michigan University graduate student Khadejah Al Muhaisin is driven by a higher purpose. Thousands of miles away, in her home country of Saudi Arabia, women face injustice daily—a grim future for little girls growing up like she did. Al Muhaisin wants to give them hope.

"Sometimes I think, 'Why are we different than other girls around the world?'"

In 2012, Al Muhaisin took the first steps on her path to purpose, helping to establish the Basma charity. She joined other young people in a mission to connect Saudi women and youth in need with educational and cultural tools to advance in society. The experience encouraged her to further her own education.

"I strived to gain knowledge and skills to practice what I love in better ways," she said in a keynote speech during the School of Social Work's virtual Hooding and Pinning Ceremony in April. She earned her bachelor's degree focusing on speech pathology in June and is continuing her education at WMU, pursuing a master’s degree in social work focused on policy, planning and administration. "As I aspire to work with broader communities and offer assistance in areas that include social anxiety and communication awareness, I challenge each one of us to focus on what we love."

Driven to Make a Difference

The love of helping others and thirst for knowledge led Al Muhaisin to WMU in 2018. Bolstered by the University's reputation as a top national institution and its commitment to diversity, she quickly found a home on campus. Soon, her vision of college being the necessary next step toward certifications in her chosen career shifted. She found a welcoming space to enrich not just her mind, but her body and soul as well.

A photo of Khadejah Al Muhaisin.

"WMU made me a strong, independent woman," says Al Muhaisin, who considers a self-defense class offered through the University one of the most impactful experiences she had on campus. She also says her studies within the social work program helped her to identify and overcome the psychological impacts of violence and bullying she'd endured in the past. It has fueled her inner fire to become a social worker in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and be an advocate for children's and women's rights in education and the workforce.

A Lee Honors College scholar, Al Muhaisin explored workplace inequity in her honors thesis, which focused on the impact of having children on the salaries of women. She discovered that the discrimination faced by women in the workforce in Saudi Arabia is more severe for working mothers who are sometimes denied adequate prenatal leave or not granted leave at all. Cultural and religious expectations also limit a woman's ability to work or find a safe working environment.

In addition to expanding her knowledge of issues related to her field of study, Al Muhaisin also relished the opportunity to get hands-on experience through field work at Gryphon Place, a nonprofit that helps individuals in times of crisis, as well as two Kalamazoo elementary schools. She received both crisis and restorative justice training while learning about culturally appropriate strategies to address behaviors in children.

Throughout her undergraduate experience at WMU, she was guided by support systems within the School of Social Work, Lee Honors College and the Haenicke Institute for Global Education that helped her thrive.

"WMU allowed me and other international students to join many kinds of clubs, workshops and daily events that relate to cultures, countries, social justice, international decision-making, self-care, arts, dance, languages and more," says Al Muhaisin. "WMU allows me to learn and discover and get many diverse opinions inside and outside the classroom."

She's excited for her next chapter as a graduate student at WMU, confident her work will get her closer to her goal of ending injustice and increasing opportunities for girls and women around the globe.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.