A Daughter of the Nile
Samia I. Spencer, professor emerita of French in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, has been a member of the Auburn Family for over 40 years. During her time here, Spencer has accomplished much, not only in her field of French, but also in one of her greatest passions—women's studies. Spencer started teaching in 1972 as women’s studies was emerging from the women's movement, and she has seen the effects it has had in the academic community.
“I think women's studies opened up a whole new world,” Spencer says. “When I was in graduate school—in the late sixties and early seventies—there was never any mention of women’s studies. Since then, it has become a recognized field with much still to be done. I think it allows women to realize their potential and go beyond traditional roles that were prescribed to them and to contribute to society. I believe our world will be much richer when all its members are full participants.”
In 2002, Spencer received funding from Auburn University to host an international conference on women and politics in a global perspective. Women from all over the world came together to discuss their roles in politics, public life, running for office, and more. After the success of the conference, Spencer wanted to do more—to create a new generation of women leaders. And the Auburn University Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) was born. In addition to her work with WLI and the Women's Studies Program, Spencer served as the Honorary Consul of France in Alabama. She has contributed to (and edited) six books, authored at least 40 articles and book chapters, reviewed nearly a hundred books, and founded and served as the general editor of an academic journal titled XVIII New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century.
Her most recent publication, Daughters of the Nile: Egyptian Women Changing Their World (2016), is a collection of thirty-seven stories from successful Egyptian women all over the world. Spencer’s idea for the book came after noticing that during, and after, the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Egyptian women were constantly in the news.
“The women shown in the media looked awful and they were described as uneducated, victims of rape and police brutality, and so on. And I just became tired of it,” Spencer says. “It was disturbing because that’s not all of the population. I looked around me, and I saw different Egyptian women who had done fantastic things all over the world. I set out to do something. I talked with friends and asked them what they thought about a book that would attempt to break that monolithic stereotype that doesn’t begin to provide an accurate portrayal of Egyptian women.”
Soon, thirty-seven women volunteered to write a chapter in Spencer’s inspirational book, each sharing her struggles and triumphs and encouraging others to pursue their dreams. Royalties from Daughters of the Nile are donated to two charities, both created by authors in the book. Banati, meaning “my daughters” in Arabic, is a non-governmental organization that cares for girls in street situations in Cairo. The second charity, The Association for the Improvement of the Environment, seeks to improve the quality of life in the Zabbaleen (garbage collectors) community of Cairo.
Spencer continues to be a voice for women’s issues. She encourages young women and men to stay strong and continue to fight for what they believe in.
“No matter what obstacles you encounter along the way, you just keep on and think, here’s my goal, and I’m going to just hold on. I can be stronger and I can overcome the obstacles and difficulties. Don’t be discouraged, that’s the key. The sky is not the limit!”
Written by Lydia Gudauskas Sinor
Last Updated: January 03, 2018