NAYA| LAU’s history of women empowerment

What is now known as LAU, was originally an American School for Girls (ASG) founded by Sarah Huntington. In 1860, it was renamed as Beirut Female Seminary (BFS). The university allowed hundreds of women to receive elementary and secondary education.
by Abdullah Malaeb and Rawan El-Shaikh

28 January 2019 | 12:23

Source: by Annahar

Staffers of the Institute for Women Studies in the Arab World. from left to right: Moufida Haidar, Carol khater, Lina Abi Rafeh (Director), Joanna Fayyad, and Myriam Sfier. (Photo by Abdullah Malaeb).

BEIRUT: The Lebanese American University has had a history of empowering women, including the appointment of many women academic and administrative heads.

But then this was a school founded by women for women.

What is now known as LAU, was originally an American School for Girls (ASG) founded by Sarah Huntington. In 1860, it was renamed as Beirut Female Seminary (BFS). The university allowed hundreds of women to receive elementary and secondary education. In the late 1800s, the university reverted to its previous name. It became the number one women’s school in the Arab region. LAU (ASG back then) influenced educational institutions and urged them to enroll females into their classes.

ASG kept on providing females in the region with elementary and secondary education until women started also enrolling in the American University of Beirut for their B.S. Thus, in 1924, ASG began offering a two-year college curriculum that was mandatory to all women who aim at pursuing a degree in AUB. Six years after the launch of the curriculum known as the American Junior College for Women (AJCW), the program was relocated to where the LAU Beirut campus is now.

In 1948, the university’s name was changed to Beirut College for Women (BCW) and two years later, it started offering its own B.A. The institution preserved its exclusivity as a women’s educational college up until 1975, the year when the university became inclusive of both sexes and was renamed as Beirut University College. Nonetheless, the university’s message of women empowerment was preserved by the development of the Institute for Women Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) in 1973, which aims at empowering women and conducting academic research on gender topics.

“We pioneer the academic research on women and the advancing issues of the Arab world through the autonomy we have under LAU,” Lina Abi Rafeh, Ph.D., Director of IWSAW, told Annahar. “Our role is to empower the women of LAU and the region by being a catalyst for policy and social change.”

The work of IWSAW at LAU created an atmosphere that encourages women to challenge all social norms and beliefs that impede their progression and create obstacles on their roads towards success.

The university makes sure to provide equity among both sexes when it comes to employment opportunities and division of positions. Ever since its establishment, the Lebanese American University had seven out of the 14 presidents as women.

The percentage of LAU female full-time staff increase rapidly each academic year. In 2015–2016, 47 percent of the full-time staff were females. In 2016–2017, this percentage increased by five percent to reach 52 percent, according to the Department of Institutional Research and Assessment at LAU.

Elise Salem, Ph.D., vice president for student development and enrolment management, occupies the highest administrative and academic position at LAU. She joined the university in 2008.

“I have been a full-time professor for 10 years,” Salem said, “I always speak my mind. I always do what I believe in.”

Rula Diab, Ph.D., is another staff that was assigned to her new position as Assistant Provost for academic affairs at the beginning of fall 2018. She explains her journey towards reaching this prestigious position by expressing the influence Samira Aghacy, Ph.D., Former Director of IWSAW, had on her career path at LAU. Diab mentions the support she received from Aghacy that encouraged her to take challenges ever since the beginning of her career at LAU.

Towards the end of fall 2018 semester, LAU took another big step towards empowering women and fighting discrimination. The university assigned Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of political science and international affairs, as the university’s Title IX coordinator.

Title IX is an American civil rights law that disallows discrimination based on sex in any educational institution or program. Skulte’s role is to investigate and resolve reports of sexual assault and gender-based inequity.

“The fact that after three years of trying, we succeeded to get this person to office is monumental and significant for LAU,” Abi Rafeh told Annahar. “Students today have anti-discrimination policies, a sense of accountability, and a place to report to.”


Welcome to “Naya”, the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment.

We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya editor, Sally Farhat:

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