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AZIZA: Uplifting Black Women at NYUAD

A unifying space for Black women, AZIZA provides an opportunity to celebrate belonging and educate about allyship. At its core, it is an expression of the love for and among Black women.

Oct 26, 2019

(Editor's note: This piece was originally published in issue 166 but is included in our new issue #BlackLivesMatter to highlight the voices and experiences of Black members of our community.)
In the fall of 2018, amid the bustling noise of Circle Cafe, 13 women united only by the experience of living in the intersection of blackness and womanhood at NYU Abu Dhabi sat down in an attempt to answer one pressing question: what do we need in order to feel like we belong?
Almost one year later, the question has materialized into the first organized group for Black women on campus. AZIZA was imagined by Tatyana Brown and Waad Abrahim, both Class of 2022, who under the mentorship and funding of the Office of Spiritual Life and Intercultural Education, created the space with the aim to unite Black women at NYUAD and in Abu Dhabi.
Image by Emily Broad
“Last year, Alta Mauro, [Director of SLICE] organized an informal Black women’s dinner on campus,” Brown reminisced. “She had collaborated with Paris Sorbonne University and faculty members from our campus so that we could have a moment of sharing, and to be reminded that we exist in big numbers…I remember walking out feeling very seen. But I couldn’t help but wonder why don’t we have more of this on a consistent basis and why don’t I feel like this every day.”
Mauro, who has mentored Brown and Abrahim since the initiative’s inception, explains how a gap identified in NYUAD’s student community became part of a SLICE initiative to start funding students’ passion projects. “We want to empower students as they navigate and experience campus community in a way that we can’t as administrators,” she explained. “Waad and Tatyana were the first ones to pitch a project that does just that.''
Aziza translates to “beloved” in Arabic, and it’s multiple meanings pay homage to our region and to the diversity of blackness the group holds, with women hailing from Jamaica, Trinidad, and Nigeria to Puerto Rico and the suburbs of Virginia.
“It is a reference to Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” Brown explained. “But AZIZA is also a popular a name in Arabic and a tribute to Black feminist thought. It is also a reference to Black congregations in the United States, where pastors typically refer to everyone as Beloved”.
What began as a group of women trying to make sense of their own experiences has evolved into an initiative open for other students to explore allyship.
On Oct. 23, AZIZA held its first Allyship Workshop, where dozens of students gathered in the Arts Center to listen intentionally, and to equip themselves with the tools to speak up as allies to Black women in the face of microaggressions and every day instances of discrimination. Despite the laughter, banter and warmth that filled the night, when someone asked a question, the entire room silently nodded in acknowledgement before jumping in to share their own lived experiences.
“It was an educational experience, something I had never felt before,” confessed Waseem Gulam, Class of 2020, after attending the workshop. “As a Black man, I see my fellow Black colleagues speaking about this stuff all the time, but to be able to understand how women experience [blackness]...back at home we don’t really receive this sort of education.”
But AZIZA is far more than an educational initiative. Its uniqueness lies in the way the group becomes a space of retreat, support and inquiry with people who share similar challenges.
Yasmeen Tajiddin, Class of 2022, expresses how AZIZA has made her feel less alone. “I didn’t realize how much I needed a space to talk about the difficulties of being a Black woman, especially on this campus,” she shared. “It’s cathartic and comforting to know that there are other people close by who are going to the same experiences and are willing to lend a hand.”
For Tajiddin, one of the most meaningful moments occurred during AZIZA’s recent event on Black women’s mental health, where she found that others shared similar experiences in regards to dating and the fetishization of Black women like herself.
Image by Emily Broad
In a moment of vulnerability, Mauro’s voice broke as she spoke of the difference a space like AZIZA would have made in her own undergraduate career. “I wasn’t that sharp when I was 19 to 20, or who knows if I was,” Mauro confessed. “But I wasn’t this together, strategic, diligent, and willing to follow through. The ground they are paving is a much smoother one, not only for Black women but for people who are engaging, learning and reflected in these efforts towards equity.”
For Brown, the space is a profoundly emotional one. “There’s not a morning I don’t wake up and wonder how my Black women are doing, and if they are not doing well, what kinds of things are causing it,” she said. “Because of AZIZA, I get to see Black women’s excellence around me all the time.”
However, starting a program like AZIZA is not without its challenges. “There is room for people to misunderstand what we are doing. My fear is that some people’s response will be why Black women?” Mauro expressed. “I hope those questions are asked and I hope they are asked publicly. I hope others know that there’s room, space and support for others to come up with an idea about communities they care about.”
AZIZA is just beginning, and in their meetings float ideas of networking highline cookouts, self-care workshops, annual dinner traditions and expanding to unite Black women not only in NYUAD but in Abu Dhabi.
For now, less than 50 students continue to share moments of intimacy and understanding, whether it be discussing the dating culture on campus, the idea of Black Girl Magic or just braiding each others’ hair and passing down tricks and products.
AZIZA is a manifestation of what happens when students take ownership of our community’s gaps and blindspots in the face of one of NYUAD’s greatest paradoxes: unprecedented diversity and the relatively few intentional spaces to navigate its complexities.
But more than that, AZIZA is an expression of the core of Black feminism: the love for and among black women, and everything else that stems from it.
For more information on AZIZA’s programming, follow @azizanyuad and SLICE’s social media channels. Have a passion project or a community you care about? Email Alta at
Lausa Assanmal is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
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