Female. Muslim. Arab American. Middle Eastern. Wife. Mother. Professor.
These are just a few of the words that describe Professor Kholoud Al-Qubbaj, associate professor of Humanities.
Originally from Palestine, Al-Qubbaj never planned on moving halfway across the world 26 years ago to become a professor at Southern Utah University.
“Coming to the United States wasn’t in my plan at all. It just came by chance,” said Al-Qubbaj.
Originally she wanted to finish her English degree at An-Najah National University and then move to one of the Gulf countries to teach high school and support her family.
It wasn’t until SUU’s current professor of Chemistry, Hussien Samha, came to visit that her plan started to change. Samha was a student of her fathers when he taught high school.
“I got engaged [to Samha]… so when I finished my degree, I followed him to New Mexico. You have to follow your family, and that’s why I came with him to the United States in the early ’90s.”
Both of Al-Qubbaj’s parents are teachers, so she always wanted to teach, specifically in a high school setting. But upon moving to New Mexico and continuing her education, her plans again evolved. During this time in their lives, she and Samha started a family and had three children.
Al-Qubbaj went on to earn both her M.A. in Education and ESL, as well as her Ed. D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Bilingual Education. While pursuing her degrees, Al-Qubbaj realized she wanted to become a professor.
In 2001, Samha got a job at SUU teaching in the Chemistry department. Once again, Al-Qubbaj followed her family to Cedar City, Utah. This time it included her husband as well as their three children.
She was fortunate enough to get a job on-campus teaching in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. But when she began teaching at SUU 19 years ago, she was one of the only minorities on campus.
“Coming to Utah 20 years ago was surprising. When I first arrived here there was not that much diversity. For me, it was a new face of the U.S. It’s a state where you see fewer minorities.”
Over the course of the almost-two decades she has been at SUU, she has seen many strides in diversification among the students, faculty and staff on campus.
SUU currently has over 700 international students from 63 countries around the world, which has increased significantly in the past 19 years. She has also noticed changes in departments to include people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“It is beautiful. It is good to see SUU with different colors and many beautiful faces. That is the beauty of the United States. It should always be like a picture of what is in the U.S. Because if you go to any other state, you are going to see many immigrants and many faces.”
Now Al-Qubbaj spends her days teaching SUU students classes such as Intro to Diversity and Multicultural Education.
“Diversity is the strength of the United States. We as individuals have to acknowledge that the United States is a changing society. It is good to know the diversity of the United States and to acknowledge others, especially their rights, and to understand that we live in a country of immigrants.”
In her classes, Al-Qubbaj focuses on topics such as race, ethnicity, discrimination, and sexual orientation. Although each of these subjects is very sensitive, she tries to teach them engagingly and hopes it teaches her students to be more accepting of others from different backgrounds.
In her past 19 years of teaching, Al-Qubbaj has found SUU to be a significant climate not only for the weather but the type of interactions she has on a daily basis.
“You meet lots of warm people. Nothing is absolute, but the majority of people I have met are very welcoming and very open-minded. SUU is always welcoming for anyone, especially for international students and all kinds of people, no matter what.”
Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtesy of Kholoud Al-Qubbaj