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Amal El Bakhar

College: Macaulay Honors College | Hunter College
Awards: Soros Fellowship for New Americans, 2015

Seeking Justice, Gender Equity

Growing up in a conservative, immigrant Arab-American household - the first in her family to graduate from high school or college - Amal El Bakhar has had to navigate carefully. Tradition would cast her in the role of housewife like all the other women in her family, but she craved a life in the public sphere.

"I always wanted to serve greater purposes," she says. "My father is extraordinarily supportive, but members of my extended family still say, ‘You're a woman. You shouldn't do that.' "

"That" includes graduating from Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in 2011 with a B.A. in both biochemistry and women and gender studies. It includes a 2011 Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, which trains recipients to become agents of urban change; she interned with government and private organizations in Pittsburgh. It also includes Harvard Law School (2016) and an upcoming summer job in litigation at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, for nearly two centuries one of the nation's premier law firms.

Her latest achievement is a 2015 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, which provides up to $90,000 to fund graduate study.

El Bakhar's family moved from Morocco when she was 9. She attended public schools, including Thomas Edison Career and Technical High School, where for four years she studied pharmacy and chemistry. "I loved it and I'm still in touch with a couple of teachers."

Biochemistry was a natural at Hunter. So was gender studies, given her evolving thoughts about family and the greater world, She volunteered at Bellevue Hospital's emergency department and worked at the Center for Reproductive Rights, whose purpose doubtless startled her family. In her academic work, she studied the similarities between her religious beliefs and her emerging consciousness of gender equality. She wrote an award-winning honors thesis on Iran's health care laws for women and a second thesis on the current legal status of reproductive rights in the United States.

These experiences factor into her goal of becoming a sex crimes prosecutor. "Sex crimes are one pivotal way in which women and children are undermined in society," she says, adding that sex crimes occur in all communities, regardless of religion, ethnicity or willingness to speak about it. "When sexual assault happens, you can't solve a problem if you pretend it isn't happening," she says.

"I've had extraordinary mentors in my life," she says, including Hunter President Jennifer Raab, Macaulay Dean Ann Kirschner and Ellen Chesler, formerly a distinguished lecturer at Hunter's Roosevelt House and now a senior fellow at the unrelated Roosevelt Institute, where she directs its Women and Girls Rising Initiative. "Their support helped me immeasurably."