ROCKET: What is your response to the celebration for the 100 years of women?
Shadin Ahmed: When I heard that we were celebrating 100 years of women, I could not help but think back to last year when we celebrated 50 years of African Americans. This was celebrated as a monumental milestone, but 50 years felt uncomfortably recent. We often act as if racism and segregation are something of the distant past, but this was a reminder that they were not too long ago and still carry implications today. When we say ‘100 years of women’, that is an inherently exclusionary statement, because in fact we are only celebrating 100 years of white women. It is not to say that 100 years of women is not something to celebrate, but it has brought up the question of how these milestones should be celebrated. It is important for us to acknowledge our progress, but to also hold ourselves accountable and to reflect as to how to do better in the future.
R: What measures can William & Mary take to make campus a more inclusive community for POC, especially WOC?
SA: In order to make campus a more inclusive community, William & Mary needs to make an active and conscious effort to make people feel more represented. Something that would have a strong impact is hiring more diverse professors. In order for POC and WOC to feel like they belong on this campus they need to see themselves represented in higher education. This would allow students to feel more comfortable reaching out to these professors and gaining access to resources and opportunities. The burden is often placed on students of color to have to explain their background or situation to others and having representation would alleviate some of that burden. Not only would having more diverse faculty benefit students of color, but it would also benefit other students by educating them about being more inclusive.
Additionally, I think there should be more of an effort towards teaching the professors on this campus to be more culturally understanding and aware. Even if they are not members of a minority group, they should be able to make those students feel comfortable. Professors often mean well, but sometimes that does not translate in their interactions with students. Many professors do not know how to approach topics of race, sexuality, and religion with their students and could come across as insensitive if not properly educated on these issues. The administration should make more of an effort to have a more culturally aware staff through training and information sessions.
R: What are some things you do on campus that you think make the environment a more inclusive one?
SA: Something that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, is that intersectionality is incredibly nuanced and hard to accomplish. On this campus, I have often felt like I can only find one part of myself in every organization that I am a part of, but never all of me, all at once. I can find my Muslim identity within the MSA. I can find my black identity within the ACS. But it’s hard to find a place where being black, Muslim, and a woman can all come together. That’s why I take every opportunity I get to vocalize my experience. When I’m with MSA, I try to talk about what it’s like to be Black and Muslim. And when I’m with ACS, I talk about the things that are specific to me as a Black Muslim. There are intersections between these identities that are often overlooked because of lack of representation. When I perform spoken word poetry, I have always made a point to emphasize the misunderstood relationship between being black, Muslim, and a woman in our society. By talking about these issues, I hope that I can make others feel like they have a voice, and that others with different identities feel like they too could speak up for themselves and educate the rest of the campus.
On campus, I am apart of several health organizations such as Health Careers Club, where I am the only black woman on the executive board. I have noticed that after every panel, I am typically approached by underrepresented minorities in the healthcare field. My hope is that they feel that even though this space has historically not been the most comfortable for them, that they now feel they could occupy this space in the future as well. As a member of HOPE I work to make sure that my perspectives and experiences regarding health issues are heard in order to deliver more inclusive programming that considers the voices of WOC. Being a woman of color, inherently contributes to making the organization a more inclusive place with the perspectives that WOC can bring to the conversation. This pushes HOPE and other organizations on campus that typically do not meet adequate representation, to meet the diverse needs of the W&M student population.
R: Who is someone on campus you look up to, and why? What do they do that you think deserves commending?
SA: Rhea Sharma is one of the most involved people I know on this campus. She ranges from being the president of HOPE, work with First Year Experience, going on Branch Out trips, and so many other things. I admire Rhea for advocating for the mental and physical health of the students on this campus. Rhea has always made a point of reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and opening up conversations about these problems. Additionally, she is able to foster genuine connections with her peers and has the ability to make everyone feel like their voice is being heard. Rhea has helped build a community geared towards the support and empowerment of others.