Although Penn’s new Muslim minister is still in her first week on the job, she is no stranger to campus.
Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad — who graduated from the College in 2000 with a major in psychology and a minor in women’s studies and has a masters’ from the Graduate School of Education — was hired in January 2013 and hopes to bring her outside knowledge back to her alma mater.
Rashad has worked with a variety of organizations in the Philadelphia community to promote mental health awareness. She founded the Muslim Wellness Foundation in March 2011 to promote mental health in the Muslim community. The foundation advocates for mental health education and combining faith with mental health treatment.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that faith is a protective factor, that it leads to resilience,” Rashad said. “It’s something that people rely on in times of hardship.”
Her ideas appealed to those already at Penn — Chaplain Chaz Howard, a classmate of Rashad’s at Penn, first offered her the position after she proposed initiating interfaith mental health training on campus.
“Personally, I am so happy to be able to once again hang out with one of my old friends from undergrad,” Howard said in an email. He added that the Penn community is “blessed” to have her as a minister.
Rashad’s background in mental health could lend itself well to working with students.
“Having experience [with] having those tough conversations and connecting with people about things that are tricky and emotional, [is] really important for students,” member of the Alumni Community of the Muslim Students Association and 2008 Wharton and College graduate Samir Malik said.
But for Rashad, this new time at Penn centers on building something that she felt was missing during her college years.
“[Penn] wasn’t as diverse, so that sense of community wasn’t there for me,” Rashad said. “I was straddling the fence between gender, race and religion.”
Malik explained that while Penn is now more diverse than in Rashad’s time, not all students may feel that way.
Thus, he said her experience will “will help her reach out more to students.”
“She can help students embrace that diversity,” Malik added.
Many Muslim students on campus may already know Rashad. She is one of the hosts of Islam Today, a radio show broadcasted every Saturday on WURD 900 AM from 5 to 6 p.m. The show focuses on family and community from an Islamic perspective.
“[Rashad] already plays the role of a mentor to many Muslims, especially as a radio host,” Penn Muslim Students Association president and College junior Muhga Eltigani said in an email.
Rashad’s radio show reflects a goal of integrating the Penn Muslim community into Philadelphia as a whole.
According to Rashad, Philadelphia has the largest population of Muslims in the United States, and Penn is often quite separate from the Philadelphia community.
Before coming to Penn, Rashad worked for the city of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services and for the nonprofit organization Community Behavioral Health. She has lived in Philadelphia for the past 17 years.
According to Eltigani, these qualifications will help Penn MSA become closer with the Philadelphia community.
“She brings experience that can help us better identify community dynamics and can help connect us to the greater Philadelphia community, which is one of our goals,” Eltigani said.