Photograph by Diamond Leadership

In Conversation with Saman Hussain, Director of SLICE and Assistant Dean of Students

Saman Hussain shared her approach and vision to community building and integrating resilience building, mindfulness, spirituality and intentionality into the IDBE landscape at NYUAD.

Sep 19, 2021

“I still feel like I am orienting to the city and to the new role. I have to remember to breathe and give myself the gift of time, space and grace. This is something I say to the students all the time: I must walk my talk of being kind and patient with myself!”
Nine months ago, Saman Hussain joined NYU Abu Dhabi as the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Spiritual Life and Intercultural Education, also known as SLICE. Previously, Hussain had worked with NYUAD as a consultant to help develop the Sustained Dialogue program. Since then, she has taken part in a multitude of campus initiatives, leading and supporting various Inclusion, Diversity, Belonging and Equity work.
Moving to the UAE during the pandemic was challenging, but Hussain chose to believe that everything happens for a reason: “Covid presented a time to really rethink and be intentional about my life choices. I believe it made many of us introspect about what really matters in the midst of all the loss.”
It helped that the community that she was joining was increasingly welcoming and supportive: “During one of my first visits to campus, a few of the [Sustained Dialogue ambassadors] came to visit — after having virtually bonded and leaned into our edges, growth and vulnerability together, it was incredibly meaningful to meet them for the first time in person and reaffirmed my decision to say “yes” to this opportunity,” shared Hussain, reflecting on her experience of finally being on campus.
Hussain is a trained mediator, certified coach and educator of leadership development and resilience. “My work has ranged from interfaith community organizing, mediating national negotiations between tribal nations and US federal government, designing DEI capacity building in the public and private sector, directing and leading organizational and leadership development programs, creating programs around resilience and mindfulness and embedding conflict resolution and restorative practices in organizations and the communities in which I worked,” elaborated Hussain. These experiences greatly inform the integrative and multidisciplinary approach she has adopted for her work at NYUAD.
Having worked on international and national levels, being able to work on a localized community level at NYUAD presents a different kind of charm to Hussain. “Being of service to one community and offering all that I can across disciplines, learn from everyone, be changing one another together and experiment and create something hopefully very beautiful is very appealing,” shared Hussain.
It is also the multidisciplinary nature of SLICE that initially drew Hussain to the role. For Hussain, it blends spirituality, mindfulness, diversity, inclusion, intercultural learning and conflict transformation together. “The opportunity to co-create a holistic approach to engaging with issues of inclusion and equity has the potential of being transformative,” shared Hussain, speaking of the distinct features of SLICE.
SLICE plays a crucial role in the IDBE landscape, collaborating with the Office of Inclusion and Equity to execute a shared IDBE strategy across the institution while serving as a bridge between students and the rest of the community. Under Student Affairs, SLICE focuses on serving the student body in areas of community and capacity building as well as spirituality, faith, inclusion, and intercultural education.
A signature program under SLICE is the Sustained Dialogue program, which Hussain had helped develop. Hussain explained that she opted for an integrative and multidisciplinary approach to modify the training curriculum, and elaborated on the impact that the training had on the cohort of Sustained Dialogue ambassadors: “Through shared laughter, tears, fears and hopes, we have grappled with intersectional issues of identity, belonging, meaning and purpose. Each dialogue ambassador has been a teacher to me, holding up a mirror to the areas for my own growth. I have heard back from several Dialogue Ambassadors indicating that their Sustained Dialogue journey has changed their lives; their relationships with family, friends, and even their career trajectory. This moves me deeply and I am grateful and humbled by this.”
Working at NYUAD with students and staff, Hussain reflected on an increased sense of humility within herself by how much she is yet to learn. “[I’m] continuously learning that diversity, inclusion and intercultural education has to be culturally contextualized, nuanced and developmentally aligned to the community it serves,” remarked Hussain on the importance of taking time to critically assess and understand our community to create programs that are best suited, in ways both empowering and restorative.
For Hussain, without intentionality and care, efforts might lead to polarization and gramentation. She highlighted the need for building communities and interconnected individuals who are prepared for difficult conversations. “This is where I think resilience, mindfulness and spirituality can be key in building up the heart and spirit of a community to sit with and wrestle with its richness and complexity. When I can get out of my own ego and agenda, I strive to access this interconnectedness in myself and others. At the core of my philosophy is to start with self, to start with heart, and to be willing to learn and unlearn each day.”
On the note of community and capacity building and critically reflecting on our communities, Hussain shared that there are a multitude of IDBE efforts underway on campus, such as the Climate Survey, Implementation Committee and the NYUAD Intercultural Development Inventory initiative led by SLICE and Office of Inclusion and Equity.
The IDI effort will allow students to meet one-on-one with Qualified Administrators to discuss their IDI assessment results. Each student will work collaboratively with the administrators to develop a plan that supports their intercultural development.
Much of her initial work has been focused on community-wide assessments, hoping to reach parts of the student population that may not be reached otherwise. Eventually, her vision for IDBE work centers conflict competence, spirituality and intercultural complexity, making the language contextualised and relevant to those coming from non-U.S. or non-Western contexts and integrating spirituality and wholeness.
This semester, Hussain hopes to focus her work on capacity and community building. “I want to take time to understand and learn the community and to develop ways of capacity building and community building that are culturally contextualized, nuanced and restorative,” Hussain shared. As part of the effort, SLICE is launching Belonging for Spiritual Seekers. “[It is] a cohort-based initiative designed to create non-denominational space for the exploration of the five characteristics of spirituality — meaning, value, connecting, transcendence and becoming.”
As Hussain reflects on her past nine months at NYUAD, she hopes to work on building a conflict-competent community in which students are able to listen, share and grapple with differences. This comes from intentionality and resolve: Having a restorative, integrative and healing approach invites us to do this, and this is what Husain’s work in IDBE focuses on.
Grace Shieh is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
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