York University MEd student Abshir Hassan was a passionate teacher who wanted to make a difference in his community and in the lives of the children who lived there. He died tragically on July 8 at the age of 31. The flags at York’s Keele and Glendon campuses were lowered from 9am Friday, July 11, until 1pm Saturday, July 12, in his honour.
Mr. Hassan earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from York University’s Faculty of Health (’08), and then went on to earn his bachelor of education degree from York’s Faculty of Education (’11). He was working on his MEd at the time of his death, with plans to pursue his PhD through the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
“The York U community mourns the loss of this gifted teacher and dedicated community leader,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, president and vice-chancellor. “Abshir Hassan was not only a York graduate student and two-time alumnus, but he was the kind of York student and graduate who embodies the very best of this institution. We extend our sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and fellow students at York.”
Ron Owston, dean of the Faculty of Education, said, “Abshir is fondly remembered by all who came into contact with him as brilliant, loving and passionately committed to social justice. All of us suffer when a member of our community is lost, and we want to express our condolences to his family and friends.”
Hassan is known by family and friends as a hard-working and caring individual who was well known and admired for his work with youth in the Lawrence Heights community where he was raised and worked.
“For me to describe Abshir in words [is] almost next to impossible,” said his father Ahmed Hassan. “His actions towards people he has met in his short life super-exceeded everything I hoped for in a child.”
He was a role model, leader and mentor who did everything he could to ensure his students – he taught at several local schools, including Lawrence Heights Middle School – worked hard and gave their best effort. He also mentored students as a volunteer in after-school programs with Success Beyond Limits. He made it a point to let his students and the kids in his community know the value of an education and continuous learning. He was a brilliant example of that message through his pursuit of graduate studies at York University.
“Abshir was a curious, committed and engaging graduate student. He was interested in learning, in exchanging ideas and getting at the heart of the issues that pertain to the low achievement of racialized students – particularly Somalis and other black students,” said Professor Carl James, Hassan’s MEd supervisor.
“This concern informed much of Abshir’s graduate work, and for his thesis he was looking at the complexity of identity. He wished to produce work that challenged the essentialized ways in which Somalis were presented in the media, and, as he would say, ‘in the imagination of Westerners who thought that Somalis were unwilling to adapt to these Western societies.’ ”
As Professor Nombuso Dlamini, who also worked closely with Hassan, said, “He was the academic rising star that I hope will continue to give light to other young stars wherever the universe has taken him.”
Dlamini remembers Abshir for his intellectual curiosity. “He was always reading, debating with me about issues of social identity and the way that young African Canadians – what he so fondly referred to as generation 1.5 – construct, negotiate and make meaning of their social identities and experiences. He was also interested in knowing how the experiences of young people like himself inform theory and scholarship. He would say, ‘Professor, let’s talk about this transnational identity thing,’ and a long scholarly conversation would begin.”
Hassan is survived by his dad, three younger brothers and a younger sister, all of whom live north of Toronto, as well as his mother and older brother in Somalia.
A funeral service was held this past Friday at the Khald Bin Alwalid Mosque in North York, Ont.