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Nora Zaki: Meet Vassar’s Advisor for Muslim Student Life

If Nora Zaki takes an ecumenical approach to her new job as Vassar’s Advisor for Muslim Student Life, and she does, here’s why: Her mother came from a Christian family but converted to Islam and later married a Muslim.

Nora Zaki, Advisor for Muslim Student LifePhoto: Jackson Hardin ‘19

“I grew up in an interfaith culture that compelled me to think about my spiritual identity from an early age,” Zaki says. “I’ve always liked exploring these issues, so I feel my calling is working in an academic environment that values introspection and social responsibility.”

Since she joined the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life in March, Zaki has been meeting with Muslim students and leaders of campus organizations such as the ALANA Center and the LGBTQ Center. One of her first campus-wide initiatives was organizing a vigil to honor the victims of a mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand. She oversees Muslim prayer services every Friday and is planning services and events associated with the upcoming Ramadan observance.

Zaki was born in Toledo, OH and was raised in Tampa, FL. When her father died when she was 15, Zaki learned Arabic as a tribute to his memory and has traveled to Egypt and several other Middle Eastern countries. “I’ve had a foot in the Arab world,” she says, “but because my mother’s relatives were Christian, I have always looked at things in an ecumenical way.”

Zaki earned a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic, Religion, and Political Science at the University of Florida in 2013 and a Masters in Divinity from The University of Chicago in 2017. She has served as a chaplain at Dominican University in Chicago and was a volunteer chaplain at the Cook County (IL) Jail and worked as a chaplain at Tampa General Hospital.

She says all of those experiences have prepared her well for her job at Vassar. “My main goal is to build a community here for the Muslim students,” she says, “but I’m also available in a one-on-one ministry for anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who reaches out to me and just wants to talk.”