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Finding Freedom

Finding Freedom
By France Griggs Sloat

Several times a week, a smart, spunky woman with short hair bustles into the Xavier library carrying a briefcase full of books and papers. She chats with her friends on the library staff before settling into the computer lab and beginning another long session of reading and testing.

While other students use the lab for researching papers or homework, Mukhabbat Nuritdinova spends her time trying to regain her career—and her life.


Nuritdinova’s odyssey began in 1991 when “the little window of freedom” opened in her native Uzbekistan after the fall of the Soviet Union. As a psychiatrist, she took full advantage of the sudden openness and began researching the self-immolation of Uzbekistani women. Her work revealed a festering social crisis where women light themselves on fire to protest unbearable abuse at home. Just as she was ready to publish her findings in 1994, however, the window slammed shut as the new government stepped up its repressive tactics. Despite her protests, she was not allowed to publish, though she was allowed to defend her thesis and earn her PhD.

She fought back by taking a Fulbright scholarship at Ohio University in 1999, and by presenting and publishing her findings several times in the United States. The window slammed shut again, though, when her government became aware of her research. Unable to go home at that point, she applied for—and received—political asylum in 2002. She moved her family to Cincinnati, where she and her husband picked up day jobs to survive.

She then decided to study for her medical license so she can practice psychiatry in the United States. She bought an online test preparation program but was hampered by the limited computer access at public libraries. A friend told her about Xavier’s library, where she’s enjoyed unlimited access to computers and the Internet. “It’s like a home for me,” she says. “My studying goes faster, I’m very productive and the environment here is very supportive.”

Last fall, she passed the first two portions of the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam and is awaiting results
of the third and final test she took in January. “The exam is life or death for me,” she says. “If I don’t pass, I won’t get a residency. But God sent me here to get educated so I can go home someday and help my people by establishing better health care.”

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