As part of the Division of Student Affairs’ initiative for Diversity and Inclusion, we at I Am Rutgers have started the #RUIDProject to highlight the many diverse identities, experiences, and reflections of the Rutgers student body. Students featured in this project share how they choose to identify themselves and how Rutgers either helps them express their identity or has helped shape their identity. If you would like to be featured in this project, share a picture of yourself and how you choose to identify using the hashtag #RUIDProject on Instagram or contact us via email.
At eight years old, I would wake up at the break of dawn on weekends to read for hours before my parents rolled out of bed. At eleven years old, I buried my nose into science magazines. At fourteen years old, I found my first love: biology. I pointed at gnarly bumps on trees and yelled out “tree tumor!” when I went on walks with my mom. I read about stem cells and cancer. I daydreamed about wearing a stethoscope and a white coat. I never needed to be told to pay more attention in school or work harder, because I loved learning. I was the stereotype of an Indian daughter: well-behaved, self-disciplined, and pre-med — an array of hyphenated adjectives.
My parents have always told me that education is the one asset that I will always carry with me. They encouraged me and raised me to be confident, helping me believe in my abilities when I doubted them. They raised me so well, in fact, that I went through the world without realizing how the rest of society saw me. It wasn’t until late in high school that I understood being an Indian daughter also meant several other things.
During my junior year, in the wake of the horrific Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi, I watched dozens of videos and read several articles about the challenges that women and girls face around the world. I was shocked to learn just how many people thought of their daughters as burdens, just because they wouldn’t “carry the family name forward.” As I read more, I learned that, in so many instances, women did not feel as though they could fight back against injustice because their poverty or lack of education diminished their confidence and self-worth. They did not believe they would be taken seriously, or that anything would change by speaking up. While I certainly had quite a ways to go, I knew that what confidence I did have stemmed from the invaluable strength my education provided me. It dawned on me, however, that these girls did not have the same opportunities to develop this stubborn belief in their own abilities, which in turn affected so many other aspects of their lives.
This discovery did not turn into action until I came to Rutgers, though. Here, I went to a meeting for a club called She’s the First, just because someone else on my floor was going. I learned STF’s purpose: to provide scholarships for girls who are the first in their families to get an education. While I joined halfway through my first semester, I quickly fell in love with their mission and threw myself into it wholeheartedly. Throughout my two and a half years at Rutgers, I have helped plan events and fundraisers; I have written letters to our scholars in Ethiopia, Tanzania, India and Nepal; and I have attended a leadership summit where I met young scholars from Peru and Guatemala. I have talked to anyone and everyone about this cause I believe in, and done everything short of chasing people down the street (although I cannot promise that has not happened). Here, I found a reason to speak up, and being the voice for other girls has helped me find my own.
I am still an Indian daughter, and I am still chasing that stereotypically pre-med dream, but I am no stereotype. I am a voice of change. I am clear-headed. I am open-minded. I am goal-oriented. I am sure-footed. I am still an array of hyphenated adjectives, but those words have changed, and so have I, for I am Rutgers.