Understanding the Past to Move into the Future

Fatiah Touray, senior director of inclusion and equity at NYU Abu Dhabi, with her family.

Fatiah Touray never expected to be living outside the US with her husband and two young children until an opportunity beckoned at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Fatiah Touray’s first act as senior director of inclusion and equity at NYU Abu Dhabi was inspired by one of the first adages she learned as a child. Born to Muslim Gambian parents from West Africa, Touray remembered an African saying from the Akan tribe of Ghana about the Sankofa bird where one must return to the past in order to move forward. “It’s about you understanding the past in order to know where you’re going in the future,” Touray explained. 

Taking that saying to heart, one of the first projects Touray took on was to launch an institutional campus climate survey so as to have a better understanding of who NYUAD is as an institution when it comes to equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The survey will serve as a keystone marker in NYUAD’s mission and vision to uphold inclusion, diversity, belonging, and equity (IDBE) since its inception and deliver on the pledge made by Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann. NYUAD’s leadership has been adamant in drawing a strong expectation from the community to uphold these values through active work and the ongoing pursuit of education, engagement, self-reflection, and a willingness to advance practices that lead to more inclusion. 

The international community that works and studies at NYUAD will also allow Touray to expand her vision for global diversity and inclusion in a different light compared to the race-focused US context.

A Comfortable Past

Working as the inaugural chief diversity officer and vice president for institutional equity at a college in New York, Touray was fulfilled in her work. “​​I was actually really happy and very comfortable in my role,” Touray said. 

Fatiah Touray, senior director of inclusion and equity at NYU Abu Dhabi.

So when an opportunity of joining NYU Abu Dhabi as a senior director of inclusion and equity came along, the mother of two was hesitant to take it on. Even though Touray had studied abroad and traveled a lot in her college years, as an adult she had never fully committed herself to living and working somewhere outside of the US.

It was Touray’s husband who encouraged her to take this job. Growing up as an expatriate in the Ivory Coast had a significant impact on his life. “(My husband) said that this will not only be a good opportunity for me, but also for our children in terms of their development and experiences,” Touray added.

Touray’s interest in the University piqued as she learned more about the mission and vision, as well as the senior leadership she will be working with. As a first generation college student from an immigrant working class background, Touray thought NYUAD would be a great opportunity for her to live and work in a place that values all her intersecting identities.

I decided to take the leap and here I am.

Fatiah Touray

Family Life with Children

Touray’s two children moved to Abu Dhabi when they were two and four years old. There are plenty of activities to keep them occupied: museums, aquariums, and also pool time on the weekends to cool down during warmer weather. Touray’s children are also exposed to plenty of extracurricular activities like gymnastics, piano lessons, and dance classes. 

Just a year into living in Abu Dhabi, her children see the emirate as home and New York as a place they visit for holidays. “They love it and really enjoy it here,” Touray said. Touray’s husband also enjoys living here — he has formed a strong community of support from a mosque that is right across from their house. 

Forming Friendships and Support Outside of Work

Having to form new friendships from scratch can be intimidating but, “if you stay the course, it will work out,” Touray said. She has found several ways to build a new group of friends within the larger UAE community. There are a number of Black women's groups that exist here in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai, as well as different meetup groups for various interests. Touray has found fellow expats here are eager to connect and meet up. Just over a year into her big international move from the US to the UAE, Touray and her family are well settled into life here.