Michelle Bouchard is a senior sociology major who is minoring in international business and Islamic world studies. Michelle started studying the Middle East because of her interest in counterterrorism, but then she fell in love with the region's cultures.
"I studied in Morocco for a short time and realized I wanted to work more with people in the Middle East on human rights and women’s rights."
“I started taking Arabic the second semester of my freshman year because I wanted to do criminal justice or something in the counterterrorism field,” says Bouchard. “I really love languages. I studied in Morocco for a short time and realized I wanted to work more with people in the Middle East on human rights and women’s rights.”
Bouchard has shared her interest in the Middle East with the Catholic University community through the University’s Arabic Club. She joined the club in her freshman year and now serves as president. She organized Breaking Taboos, a talk last November by award-winning photojournalist Eman Mohammed.
She first heard Mohammed speak at an event last summer at Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts. “I knew for Arabic Club that we needed a big event to spark interest in the club so I emailed her agent and she got back to us and said she would love to do an event with us,” says Bouchard. The Palestinian ambassador to the United States was at the talk, which was well attended by the University community.
In addition to hosting speakers and cultural events such as Arabic cuisine nights, the Arabic Club offers assistance to the Middle East community in the D.C. metropolitan area.
“At Eman Mohammed’s talk we raised money to buy blankets for refugees,” says Bouchard. “Next semester we are going to try to go to different refugee centers and help out in any way we can.”
Bouchard says that through her study of sociology, she has developed a particular interest in Islamic feminism and the rights of women in the Middle East.
For her senior thesis, she is researching Islamic feminism in Iran, Jordan, and Yemen. “Whenever I tell people about it they ask if Islamic feminism is even ‘a thing.’ People just see women in the Middle East as being completely oppressed without any rights at all and that isn’t necessarily true.”
“They also see Islam as the cause of this but it’s more a cultural thing. In the Middle East there are different spheres for women [than in other parts of the world]. I want to focus on more universal rights for women and all people.”