"a kind of engaged wit(h)ness"
"I don’t really know what I am, you know, politically speaking. I don’t consider myself to be a leader. I consider myself to be a kind of witness I suppose. I don’t know. But my weapon, no my tool, is my typewriter, my pen.”
maytha alhassen, Ph.D. is a historian, journalist, social justice artist, and mending practitioner. Her work bridges the worlds of organizing, academic research, media engagement, artistic expression and spiritually-guided healing practices.
Social Justice Artist Work
As both artist and organizer, alhassen performed and wrote for internationally touring play "Hijabi Monologues" (composed of lived experiences scribed by Muslim women) and worked with arts-based social justice organization Blackout Arts Collective. As a member of the collective, she facilitated creative literacy workshops with incarcerated youth at Rikers Island, assisted in organizing a Hip Hop Film Festival in the prison's high school and wrote an introduction on the role of love in dismantling the prison industrial complex for an anthology of the youth's poetry and visual art titled One Mic. As a poet, actress, and speaker Alhassen has performed at the Kennedy Center, Shrine Auditorium, in a Sundance film, on the TED stage, at South by Southwest in 2010 and 2012 (and the next SXWS in 2019!), and at many universities.
In 2015, alhassen established and designed the Social Justice Institute in collaboration with the Office of Student Affairs at Occidental College to train fellows in social justice praxis. Previously, maytha served as a 2014 core steering committee member of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), involved in MuslimARC's early digital organizing campaigns addressing racism in the Muslim American community. A year later, alhassen joined a group of Arab diasporic peoples to form Arabs for Black Power, a collective committed to solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) that emerged in response to the M4BL platform in 2016. Alhassen returned to the Muslim American social justice space and prison abolition organizing work in 2018, leading a campaign with three other Muslim women scholars to activate the Muslim community around ending mass incarceration and money bail called Believers Bail Out. The initiative was profiled by Chicago Tribune and Teen Vogue.
For the last 4 years, alhassen has worked with refugee populations from Turkey to Greece as a journalist, translator and healer. In October 2017, alhassen piloted her "Yoga to the Displaced People" program---a trauma-informed yoga intervention geared towards displaced and marginalized peoples---with a population of refugee women in Greece. More recently, alhassen completed a TED residency that culminated in a performance of a poem she wrote for her ancestral homeland of Syria and in order to speak to the limited frameworks we use to understand this crisis of seeking refuge. In a departure from standard TED talk structure, A Poem for Syria: Beyond on a Geography of Violence, was born out of a desire to deracinate popular narrative scripts that imagine Syria as a "geography of violence." Other poems emerging from her work in refugee camps and with displaced peoples ("Camps Concentrated in the American Imaginary") have been published in the literary journal Red Ink.
In Fall 2017, alhassen was awarded a 2017-2018 Pop Culture Collaborative Senior Fellowship geared towards studying and shifting Muslim narratives. As a Senior Fellow, Alhassen will lead a project to unlock new pathways to create and popularize authentic narratives for Muslims in pop culture, including a report on representations of Muslims on screen for the last 100 years and recommendations for transforming prevailing narratives. Released in October 2018, the report Haqq and Hollywood: Illuminating 100 Years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them, documents the cinematic history of depicting Muslims, political drivers fueling the narratives, the effects on public opinion, brilliant Muslim creatives, interviews and recommendations for the entertainment industry, philanthropy, media and social justice organizers.
Harnessing her training as a community organizer, 200 hour trained yoga instructor, Reiki healer, and other spiritual traditions, alhassen has been invited by organizations, schools, communities and companies to facilitate holistic healing convenings (including women and sacred femme circles and trauma-informed yoga and meditation workshops) for Summit, Brandless, Harness, USC, Mama's Glow's The Circle and Daughters of The Doorway.
Writing and TV appearances
alhassen has written for CNN, Boston Review, Huffington Post, Mic, The Baffler, La Vanguardia, Feminist.com, and Counterpunch. Alhassen is a co-editor of Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions, published in 2012. Currently, alhassen serves as a member on the editorial board of the electronic version of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.
As a commentator, alhassen has been featured on CNN, BET, Al Jazeera, Fusion, HuffPost Live, Splinter, The Young Turks, NPR, CBC, Pivot, ATTN, WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show," Power106's "Knowledge is Power," Splinter and KPFK. She appears regularly as a guest co-host and digital producer Al Jazeera English's current-events program "The Stream," and guest co-hosting The Young Turk's main hour. Previously, Alhassen co-hosted an Arab-American TV variety show on ART called What's Happening. Her work has been profiled by The Nation, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Vox, The Root, The Intercept, Teen Vogue, Colorlines, Social Text and featured in a number of academic articles and books.
In a transition to behind the camera work, alhassen has been consulting on depiction the depiction of Arabs and Muslims for documentaries, major studio films and TV shows. She is currently advising on the development a TV show on the Muslim American experience. In her capacity as an educator, she lectures nationally across college campuses on the history of the silver and small screen's portrayal of Arabs and Muslims, tying pop culture representations of these communities to prevailing political narratives and U.S. foreign policy in the respective regions. alhassen's speaking gigs and moderated conversations have taken her to universities, conferences, and community centers in the South Africa, UK (England, Wales, and Scotland), Germany, Mexico, Lebanon, France, Poland, Egypt, Canada, Portugal, Greece, Kosovo, and Bahamian waters (Summit at Sea).
maytha alhassen received her Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity from University of Southern California in December 2017. She studies cultural histories, social movements and friendships, race and ethnicity, social justice and the arts, travel, global flows, critical migration studies, women + gender, sacred femininities, media studies, Afro-Arab "solidarity politics," Malcolm X, global south, food justice, and indigenous spiritual healing technologies and practices.
While a doctoral student at USC, alhassen assisted in the launch of the Middle East Studies Program (now a department). This Fall, alhassen began teaching for Prescott College's M.A. in Social Justice and Community Organizing and will be instructing graduate students within Chapman University's Peace Studies program.
alhassen received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Arabic and Islamic studies from the UCLA in 2004 and her master's degree in Anthropology from Columbia University in 2008. While at Columbia, alhassen conducted research for the university's Malcolm X Project.
If you are interested in booking or working with alhassen as a speaker, consultant, artist or healer; please message her through the contact tab. A list of services will soon be available on this site.
* from Sedat Pakay, James Baldwin in Turkey: Bearing Witness from Another Place (Seattle WA: Northwest African American Museum, 2012
University of Southern California
Doctor of Philosophy in American Studies and Ethnicity, 2017
Master of Arts in American Studies and Ethnicity, 2013
Core Fields: History and Anthropology
Concentration: Social and Cultural History, African Diaspora/Black Studies, Middle East/Arab Studies, Critical Race Studies, Global Islam, Oral Histories, Transnationalism, Women & Gender Studies, Social Movements, Justice Studies, Art & Social Justice,
Dissertation: To Tell What the Eye Beholds: A Post-1945 Transnational History of Afro-Arab ‘Solidarity Politics’
Master of Arts in Socio-Cultural Anthropology
Concentration: American Studies, Middle Eastern & North African Studies, African American Studies, Racial and Identity Formation, Social Movements
Thesis: The Modern Remix of the Tawhid of Trinity: Black-Arab Muslim Hip Hop in the US
University of California, Los Angeles
Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Concentration: Political Science/International Relations, Arabic & Islamic Studies, and Italian
Senior thesis: Malcolm X's Influence on Politicizing Hip Hop