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On Inclusivity at Harvard

In just over a week, I’ll be graduating from this place. My friends and I are beginning to pack boxes and open up new parts of our lives, but this week has been a time of reflection. After thinking a lot about the people and things that have transformed me and given me meaning, I’ve realized how important the Harvard College Women’s Center has been for me.

Some history:

Harvard has long been a space for men only (women weren’t allowed full access to Lamont Library until 1967). As Radcliffe and Harvard began to co-educationalize over the years, several iterations of the Women’s Center rose and fell, but only the current iteration of the Women’s Center has received substantial administrative support.

Here’s why this matters:

As an institution that has historically centered masculinity, we need to keep talking about gender and how it plays out in our academic, social, and political experiences. Who gets representation in the Undergraduate Council? Who feels comfortable in STEM classes? Who dominates social spaces on weekends? Why?

I’m not one for “safe spaces” rhetoric, primarily because one person can never guarantee to everyone in a room that the room will remain safe–we all have different triggers and needs, and we can’t all know the triggers and needs of others in a room. However, I am the biggest advocate for safer spaces, spaces where everyone is consciously and actively prioritizing the safety and comfort of others.

For the past four years, the Harvard College Women’s Center has been my safer space on campus. In my first year, I wanted to attend events that focused on identity–it was weird for me as a queer woman of color to feel at home on campus, but the Women’s Center gave me a place where I could go to study or hang out with friends,  and programming where I could meet people who felt similarly confused and anxious about being at Harvard, regardless of their identity or background.

Since then, the Women’s Center has become a second home to me. As an intern, I’ve had the opportunity to plan events that I’m interested in attending, always considering what I would have wanted as a newcomer to this often-overwhelming, often-impersonal campus.

Diverse spaces make a huge difference in student life. To see myself represented, to know that my presence won’t be doubted or questioned, to bond with others who experience marginalization–this space is essential in facilitating those connections. Quoting Sara Ahmed,

The brick wall is what you come against when you are involved in the practical project of opening worlds to bodies that have historically been excluded from those worlds. An organisation can be a world; a neighbourhood; a street; a home; a nation.

The way that universities organize themselves is not conducive to finding community, especially as a marginalized person. This is why I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled upon one of the few physical spaces on campus where all genders are explicitly welcomed, where programming considers intersectional identities, and where staff are eager to support me in all of my academic and extracurricular identities. The Women’s Center allows me to exist as a whole self, as a full person instead of a diversity metric or a GPA.

As Harvard has recently grappled with exclusive social spaces, I want to emphasize the importance of the already-existing inclusive social spaces such as the Women’s Center. During my four years here, I have not encountered any other space filled with as much conscious love and care. Exclusion is not a part of the HCWC’s mission. All genders are encouraged to enter and participate in the space, allowing students to drive programming and build community. I’m grateful to have been welcomed into a place where I can feel at home with coffee, tea, condoms and cookies.

As I leave Harvard, I wonder how I will find another safer space to inhabit. I know, however, that my years as an HCWC intern leave me well-equipped to build my own.

#WCW: Our Senior Interns!

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From left to right: Brianna, Sofia, Megan, and Jasmine

We can’t believe that it’s the last week of classes- the last day, actually- this year, and we really can’t stand to see our seniors go. Brianna, Sofia, Megan, and Jasmine- you are all our woman crushes everyday, not just this Wednesday!

Here’s a little bit about why we’ll miss you (sorry that it’s so cheesy

Brianna (sorry for the rudimentary photoshop job), thanks for being the best social media & communications co-intern I could’ve asked for! There would be no tumblr without you– you’re much funnier than I am (I just supply the gifs). You’re going to be the coolest social worker ever, and I’m going to miss your presence around the women’s center. At least I’ll be able to keep up with your shenanigans with your Facebook statuses, which give me life (hearing someone speak so candidly about classism, racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression is honestly inspiring).

Sofia, your presence always brings a sense of serenity/calm. You’re never afraid to speak your mind to stand up for what’s right, and you were an amazing Gender 101 facilitator because you’re so down-to-earth and relatable. Your empathy and compassion will be missed when you leave campus!!!

Megan, you are going to be the best teacher ever! Thank you for all the work that you’ve done on campus to raise awareness about and help survivors of sexual assault. You somehow are both so composed/serious yet so hilarious at the same time, and your singing and other antics will be missed dearly!

Jasmine, you brought so many people at the Women’s Leadership Awards to tears last night; your passion for the first-gen movement on campus is so inspiring. Thanks for making Harvard feel like home, and for your smile and laugh!

And for all of the seniors- thank you for being unapologetic about your beliefs and not toning down your feminism for anyone!! Please, please, please come visit us back in Canaday whenever you are around!

 

#HCWC #WCW: Dr. Genevieve Clutario

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I had a very interesting discussion with a lot of my friends the other day about how many of them have never had a female-identified professor at Harvard. I began to wonder why that may be the case; do departments consciously think about gender when giving professors tenure and undergraduate classes? And what about the gender gap in many fields, particularly mathematics and computer science?

I realized that I’ve been particularly blessed to have had so many wonderful, strong women as role models at Harvard, and one of the ones that I admire most is Professor Genevieve Clutario. As an Asian American, I have never really had many role models, academic or cultural, that look like me or can identify with my lived experiences. Professor Clutario was my first Asian American female teacher in any capacity, and I’m thrilled to have taken two classes with her: Gender and Empire this semester, as well as Colonization, Globalization, and Cultures of Asian Diaspora[s].

Professor Clutario is amazing for many reasons, but the one that I’m really thankful for is the fact that she takes it upon herself to educate her students about vocabulary that is often tossed around without much thought. For instance, in both classes she took a lot of time to explain what intersectionality is, a word that I haven’t learned about in an academic setting, what gender is, and how to use gender and intersectionality as lenses to view history (and events today). She also makes sure to explain a lot of references because she does not assume that everyone will know what she is talking about– for instance, when discussing Christian imagery in ads for adoption, she described the image of Madonna and Child and why it is significant in our culture.

However, what stood out to me is the fact that Professor Clutario made sure that everyone, regardless of gender, knew what exactly a tampon is and what each type of birth control does. I’ve never had a professor or teacher talk so explicitly about birth control or even tampons in my classes, and that is after nearly fifteen years of school and four years of health class.

Even if Professor Clutario talks about some really heavy subjects, such as sexual assault in history (ex. spending a great deal of time going over the plight of Korean comfort women, a chapter of history that is often erased or forgotten), she does so while being relatable and lovable. Every person I know who has taken one of her classes gushes about them because she is approachable, funny, and passionate.

Outside of the classroom, Professor Clutario continues to engage with undergraduates, working as an advisor to the Asian American Studies working group. She’s truly one of the biggest role models I’ve found on campus and my #WCW every day!

#WCW 4/13/16: Dr. Sabeti

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Picture from Wikipedia

Our #HCWC #WCW this week is Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a professor in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department. Dr. Sabeti was featured in TIME 2015’s 100 Most Influential People for her work in identifying that the ebola virus was being transmitted from human to human and not through animal vectors or other sources. She and her lab constantly do significant global health related science research for malaria, ebola, and lassa fever. Pretty awesome!!

Dr. Sabeti is also a musician. In her free time she is also the lead singer of the band Thousand Days, a female-fronted alternative rock band that performs in Boston. Their songs are available for streaming on Soundcloud!

In summary, Pardis Sabeti is a rockstar–both literally and figuratively- who challenges, motivates, and inspires us at the women’s center not only to break  barriers in academia, and to help people around the world, but also to have fun and do what we love, whatever it may be!

#HCWC #WCW: The Members of Pussy Riot

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Picture taken from Amnesty International’s Flickr Page here.

Our first Woman Crush Wednesday this month is dedicated to the women in the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot. Last year, I got to see two of its members, Nadezhda and Maria, speak at the Harvard Institute of Politics and I can attest that they are just as amazing and awe-inspiring in person as they are with their online presence.

The group was founded five years ago and became famous for its guerilla performances of music in public that was in opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot’s music champions feminism, refugee rights, and rights for the LGBTQ* community as well as acts as a form of protest against the human rights abuses against Russian civilians by its government. One of the coolest videos you can see of the group is”Punk Prayer” (where the group performs inside of Christ the Savior Cathedral), in which the group protests the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Putin back in 2012.

As a result of the performance, two of its members, Nadezha Andreyevna Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were famously imprisoned (they were released after one year after immense public pressure from human rights organizations). At the time, the two women were in their early twenties and each had a four-year-old child that they had to leave behind. Both have been outspoken about the treatment they received while incarcerated, particularly because Maria collapsed from hunger because her nutritional needs (veganism) were not acknowledged. Though they were released in 2013, they were imprisoned in Sochi in 2014 and footage has been revealed of the two women being whipped by Cossacks in the area.

Aside from its activism in Russia, Pussy Riot members have also called to attention injustices in the United States. For example, they protestedpolice brutality with its song “I Can’t Breathe” and are campaigning for Bernie Sanders in this presidential election (at the same time, the group opposes Donald Trump and his racist/misogynistic ideologies, and have protested against him around the United States and spoken out about his views on their Twitter). While at Harvard, Maria and Nadezha even went to the Cambridge Police Department to learn more about an audience attendee who was arrested for entering the University.

Thank you Pussy Riot for challenging, motivating, and inspiring us at the Women’s Center to fight for human rights every day!

Hello, it’s Adele [this week for our WCW]

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Picture from Wikipedia

Adele is a talented singer-songwriter who uses her music to challenge, motivate, and inspire. A recipient of an Academy Award, American Music Awards, a Golden Globe, and several Grammys, Adele is a role model who  donates her time, energy, and talents to charities as well.

What makes Adele stand out is the fact that she loves herself and her identity and will not change because of the spotlight. When designer Karl Lagerfeld made a comment about her weight (saying she was “a little too fat”), Adele responded by saying “there’s only one of you, so why would you want to look like everyone else.” In the same vein, she’s stayed true to herself as long as she can remember, wearing the same perform for over a decade and sticking to her signature black dress and glamorous hair/eyeliner look. She knows what works for her and isn’t going to be swayed by the media or other people’s opinions of what she should look like!

Adele is also amazing because her number one priority is her music. Her voice is one of a kind, but so is her talent- most of her songs were written by herself, and her songs are relatable because they are about simple human experiences that many people go through.

Above all, Adele is someone who loves to laugh and enjoys life. She’s someone that we all wish we could friends with and honestly could imagine ourselves as friends with. Thank you Adele for challenging, motivating, and inspiring us at the women’s center!

WCW: Tavi Gevinson

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Tavi Gevinson, editor-in-chief of Rookie magazine, is one of my biggest inspirations. No, really. I can’t believe that she’s the same age as me and I’d do anything to be part of her girl gang (along with Amandla Stenberg and Kiernan Shipka). One of the hallmarks of her magazine is the friend crush, a monthly section that is meant to spotlight girls who love and support each other. Though Tavi has no idea who I am, this is basically my friend crush blogpost about her (I actually nominated my best friend Jennifer for the Friend Crush section and we were featured last year!

So what is Rookie, and who is Tavi, and why are they both so great? Rookie’s “About” page states that Rookie is:

“an independently run online magazine and book series founded in 2011 by Editor-in-Chief Tavi Gevinson. We publish writing, photography, and other forms of artwork by and for teenagers (and their cohorts of any age!).”

Rookie is also an online (and in-print) community. It has one of the most vibrant comments sections of any of its peer magazines, probably because the articles are so real (read: the Dear Diary series, where girls talk really candidly about their lives; I remember one entry that really stuck out to me about a girl who just started college and she’s feeling importer syndrome, something I struggled with a lot freshman year when I felt like I didn’t belong at Harvard). What I think sticks out about Rookie is that no other magazine aimed at teens is similarly written by teens themselves (I’m looking at TeenVogue and Seventeen, which may have teen correspondents but most of their articles are written by adults).

The magazine that Tavi has spearheaded not only celebrates teen girls, but also girls of all different body types, sexualities, and races. It also speaks about mental health and feminism in a way that is understandable by the audience. It’s basically everything that I dreamed of but didn’t have as a preteen.

Tavi, before her vision for Rookie, was just a ridiculously cool kid. Instead of playing Neopets like most of my friends and I did at the same age, she created a wildly popular fashion blog (StyleRookie) when she was 11. Besides her literary success, she’s also an actress: last year, she starred in This is Our Youth with Michael Cera in New York.

Case in short, she’s just a ridiculously cool and talented human being and I’d be her friend and help empower teens with feminist content any day. (If you want to learn more about her, watch her Ted Talk here).