Menstruation Series: Part I

Hey everyone!

A couple of months ago, my partner and I were invited to serve in the Peace Corps. Super exciting! While we are still waiting for medical clearance (fingers crossed), this possible adventure got me thinking a lot about periods. Where we were going, there is very little electricity, and no running water, not to mention strict views on gender. What’s more, the more I read about being a woman in a developing country, the more I learned that traditional pads and tampons simply aren’t available due to lacking resources and heavy menstruation taboos. What is a Peace Corps volunteer-hopeful gotta do?

Turns out, there are a couple of ways female volunteers deal with periods out in the field–the Peace Corps supplies all women with menstrual cups. However, I became more interested in how locals deal with menstruation, and of other ways to period both back home and in the developing world. This Menstruation Series will be divided into four parts, each discussing a different period product that is both more environmentally friendly, developing nation friendly, and tested out my yours truly. For part I, I want to share a couple of things I have learned about what it is like to menstruate for girls and women living in the developing world.

Girls miss school.

Yep, you read that right. Millions of girls miss school because of their period–and eventually drop out. This is a problem both where I might be going with the Peace Corps, and worldwide. The infographic above from Her Turn is a great visual of the problems present. Many girls report lacking resources to deal with periods. In rural areas, there are usually no bathrooms, garbage disposal, or running water in schools. Many girls end up using old rags and clothing in place of a pad to get through the few days of their period.

Girls who stay in school longer grow their country’s GDP, have more economic opportunity, less children, marry later in life, and if they do have a family, their kids are more likely to live past the age of 5. Education lifts up everyone, and girls make up half the world. Let’s not keep them back.

There are tons of organizations trying to alleviate the problem sustainably, such as AFRIpads–check them out here.

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Another big factor affecting girls and women who are menstruating are the heavy taboos placed upon it. Because there is little education or understanding of female health and hygiene, many people view periods as unnatural and unclean. Sometimes women and girls have to live apart from their communities during their period because of this. And, if a girl bleeds through her clothes at school, she faces extreme embarrassment from community members. If you thought it was hard talking about periods in the United States, think again.

There are programs like WASH by UNICEF that are trying to change this, at least in terms of hygiene for not just girls, but all children. There is also the Thinx Foundation, whose goal is to educate and empower girls around the world, particularly regarding periods.

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That’s all for this week! I encourage you to do further research, because this is an issue we can fight and put an end to. I hope that I am able to dedicate my life to service around the world, and if not that, we can work together to improve the lives of those in our own communities.

Until next time,

Marta

Menstruation Series: Part I

Stay Gold

Hey Everyone!

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As I’m sure most of you know, graduation season is well underway. Seeing my friend’s and family’s graduation pictures has made me think about my own graduation and how I have grown in the years since. It all started a few weeks ago when my classmates told me about about a conversation they had with one of our teachers. According to them, somewhere in the conversation my teacher said something to the effect of “Gianna is a damn good actress. She should quit her job and start acting in some plays.” It kind of blew my mind to hear that, because it brought me back to my original plans for my life once I graduated high school.

I ended my high school year thinking that I was going to move to LA and start auditioning, learning about acting, and working as an actress as soon as possible. But then life happened and I ended up getting a job as a cashier at Whole Foods after a few months and I have been there ever since. During those years, my passions had to take a backseat. That was okay for a while it turned out, because moving to LA was huge culture shock. Having some sort of stability helped me to gain some confidence again. But now, after three years I feel that my life needs to take a new direction.

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I think there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to try and decide if their dreams and goals are worth risking it all for. What I have decided for myself is that I would much rather “fail” at the thing I am most passionate about, than to be safe and “successful” at something that I hate doing. Life is too short to not live it to the best of your ability.

At my school, we get many opportunities to speak to actors, directors, agents managers etc, who are very successful in the industry. It’s a great opportunity to hear these people speak, and I always feel lifted and a little smarter once I leave. A common theme that I have noticed in all of these talks is this: The only difference between people who “make it” and people who don’t is the level of commitment. It truly does not matter what you look like, where you come from, what gender you are, how tall you are etc etc. All that matters is how much work you are going to put into it everyday. If you want it more than anything else, it can and will be yours. This isn’t just true for acting, it’s the truth for any and every goal set by everyone.

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As you move forward into the next stage of your life, whether you just graduated from high school, college or you’re still in school, remember to stay true to your passion and dreams. Be the person who goes after their goals regardless of how bumpy the road looks ahead. You matter, and your dreams are important no matter how big or small they are.

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If you leave this blog post learning only one thing, let it be this: Graduation is a time of celebration and new beginnings. It may seem confusing and scary at first, but know that everything you want can be yours if you work hard enough and you believe. It will take a lot of dedication and hard work, but everything that is worth having is worth working for. You owe it to yourself to be courageous and to keep pushing your own personal envelope because you never know what treasures are waiting just beyond your comfort zone. This is how I am choosing to live my life from now on, and I hope to inspire you all to do the same.

Stay Fabulous.

-Gianna

Stay Gold

Women’s March: Coast to Coast

This blogpost is co-written by Gianna and Marta, and shares their experiences at the Women’s March on Washington, a global movement fighting for equality. Gianna describes the march on the West coast in LA, and Marta describes the march on the East coast in Washington DC. Feminine Boutique stands in solidarity with all you feminists!

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Friday, January 20th , I woke up feeling lethargic and depressed, and let’s be honest, it was because of the inauguration. It was gray outside and raining heavily and it seemed to me that the weather was a reflection of my inner being. I somehow managed to workout, meditate and shower that day, but then spent the rest of the day glued to the couch being depressed and watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix (which is a great show) ironically. It didn’t seem like anything could get me out of my mood, not food, singing, or dancing; nothing I did really worked, it was just one of those days.

That night, my mother and I were speaking about the plans we had for the next day and she mentioned the Women’s March. She had been mentioning it for a while, and I had heard my classmates speaking about it for a few days, but that night I made a promise to myself that I would go. I wasn’t going to let this funk I was in keep from doing things that really matter.

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When I woke up on Saturday, I felt so much better. The sun was shining through my window and I just had a feeling that the day was going to be something really amazing. My mom and I headed out to the march around 11, and it was clear early on that the city of LA was ready for this to go down. As we approached Downtown Los Angeles, the traffic was terrible and the sidewalks were crowded with protesters of all ages, races and genders with signs making their way to Pershing Square. We found a parking spot, got out of the car, and followed the crowds of people to the march. As we approached the crowd, the sound of drumming and chanting from the crowd became clearer and clearer. Even from outside of the main crowd, the energy coming from everyone was palpable. There was an electric energy that seemed to move through every single one of us in the crowd.

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Once I was fully aware of the amount of people who had shown up to give their support, I was so overwhelmed gratitude for where we are, and hope for where we are going. We had all come together for a purpose and an agreed vision about what this country is truly about and how we want to leave it for future generations. Being in the crowd, and seeing the amount of people who had come out to support women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, religious freedom, and racial equality made me so proud to be an American.

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After the election, I had a hard time defining what being an American meant to me. I had never really been faced with that question before, but I found that it was something I could not avoid any longer. I grew up thinking that America was this magical place where everyone was free and welcome to be themselves. I thought that the issues that had plagued earlier generations and halted our growth as a society had already been dealt with. But that image for me was shattered, and what I saw instead was an ugly daunting task ahead. Going to this rally gave me the strength and the passion to continue on this journey for peace and equality.

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There is no denying that there is a lot of work ahead for us, because as this election revealed, there is still so much hate and fear of the unknown in this country. But this shouldn’t discourage us, because everything that is worth having, is worth working for. Despite what the media might tell you, there is still so much good that is alive and well in the world. It’s important that the people who are committed to making positive changes in this country keep their spirits high and their skin thick. I, for one, am in this for the long haul no matter the obstacle. I extremely thankful for the insight I gained from the Women’s March; it was the saving grace I didn’t know I needed.

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I had spent the last three weeks in DC taking a vacation when the day I had been dreading came about: the Presidential Inauguration. The last few months, I have tried to hold out hope that really things weren’t so bad. Maybe, just maybe, the new President would prove all the raging liberals wrong and show that he is kind and open to others and their thoughts. I’ve spent years working toward equality in the States and internationally, and to watch all of my work, and the work of many others, being threatened was something that I did not know if I could handle.

I went to the inauguration with my significant other. The night before I was actually kind of excited–here I was, in the middle of DC, about to watch a presidential inauguration. I wanted to get a feel for it, and find some sort of hope amidst it all. We took the Metro downtown, all the while crowds of Midwesterners southerners that were once my neighbors grew. Security was high, and the weather dismal. It rains a lot in DC, but the clouds loomed rather than let themselves pour. Still, I tried to keep up hope.

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The closer we got to the center of it all, right on the lawn of the National Mall, the more sparse crowds got. The more I looked around, the more signs I began to see, and one in particular had me lost: “EVERY REAL MUSLIM IS A JIHADIST”. I couldn’t believe my eyes! How could anyone carry that around and be proud? How could anyone perpetuate racist messages and hate like that? Trump supporters jeered at protesters who were left outside the gate. There was a vibe of shallow pride and delight, a sense of “Hah, we beat you all down to the ground. We are the powerful ones in this land.”

The ceremony took place. The supporters were overjoyed at the whole affair, feeling a sort of power that perhaps had been taken from them along the way. But Trump’s speech was absurd. And the crowd cheered at every point made that involved putting America first, and refusing to help anyone else. The crowd howled when he made promises to ‘take out the terrorists’, and ensure that once again, America is more powerful than any other country in the world. It was at that point that I broke, and walked away from it all. I couldn’t take one more second of progress being shot down left and right.

The next day, however, brought a promise of hope. Some friends and I trekked down the National mall once more, only this time to fight for peace. I was nervous and excited; I have never been part of something so big! This time, as we made our way through the Metro system, we were surrounded my smiling faces and way too many pink hats. The Metro was literally unable to keep up with the amount of people trying to board the trains! At every stop, we were delayed, trying to fit everyone from the platform onto the train car. I couldn’t stop laughing at it all.

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When we finally made it to the rally, signs in hand and excitement in the air, it was incredible. From 10am to 2:30pm, we stood among the crowds and heard a whole array of speakers at the rally preceding the march itself. The women (and men!) who spoke came from all sorts of backgrounds and every color there is. There was Madonna, Michael Moore, Donna Hylton, Ashley Judd (who performed an amazing poem), Sophie Cruz, America Ferrera, and so many more incredible people speaking on behalf of the silent.

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I had never felt so empowered, hopeful, and joyful in one place. I had never felt so motivated to keep on fighting for what is right. It felt like true democracy; we are the people, and we have something to say. The speakers sang for us (thank you, Alicia Keys!), and rapped for us (Ashley Judd), and more importantly reminded me of problems our society has yet to deal with. What struck me most was when a Muslim woman spoke, and explained how hard life here has been since the 9/11 attacks, and what it really means for her with Trump as president.

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The world glowed that Saturday. The people showed a solidarity I think the American people have been missing for a while. The last election took a lot of the wind from my sails, and has made many fear just being alive. As a person of mixed decent, with a mother who immigrated here, this was the first day I truly began to understand what it means to be American. Americans are loud and boisterous and sometimes crazy (the whole world knows it), but that is our greatest strength. We are not afraid of speaking our minds to the leader of our entire country. We are not afraid of the repercussions of taking an unpopular stance on a sensitive issue. And we never stop fighting for what we believe in.

Women’s March: Coast to Coast

Tuesday Spotlight: Kasheka Chitkara

Kasheka Chitkara is a sophomore at Bryant University, hailing from Cape Cod. She studies Management and Sociology, and loves dogs. Movies and binge watching TV shows on Netflix are a number one pastime, with SVU  being a favorite. Kasheka involves herself in multiple student efforts on campus that fight for human rights and justice for all.

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FB: Netflix or Hulu?

KC: Oh, Netflix. Netflix has almost every episode of SVU.

Kasheka is a passionate individual that strives to understand the social inequalities we see on a daily basis. Whether it is issues of race, gender, or ethnicity, she is ready to fight for what’s right and is knowledgeable on the roots of social issues. If you are looking for a someone trying to shake up how you view the world, this is the gal you want to talk to.

“The fact that I can just get out of bed is a huge thing for me.” For many years, Kasheka struggled with mental illness—but that hasn’t stopped this lady. She is motivated by the small things, such as getting up in the morning. She knows that in doing so she gets a chance, every day, to contribute to making the world just a bit better. Her determined attitude and ready demeanor is the cherry on top. No large feat was completed in a single day, right?

Kasheka explains that her greatest goals in life are tied into her studies right now. “The big dream is making a change, which is why I’m majoring in business because I feel like business is a major force in our society.” She hopes that by getting into business and working her way up, she might have an influence within the private sector. “Business runs media,” she says, and adds that with a good team and the right people, business might be able to use media to stand for social advocacy.

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Each and every day I try to advocate for what I believe in, and all the civil rights I believe in.

Along with her studies, Kasheka is involved in student clubs, namely Alliance for Women’s Awareness (AWA) as Vice President, and an executive board member of ONE. AWA puts on events for students that talk about gender and serve as a group that sheds light on gender inequality. ONE raises awareness about global poverty and uses civic engagement to spur change. Basically, she is using all of her time as an individual—studies included—to work toward a more egalitarian future.

“The biggest struggle within being a woman, within being Indian, within being a person of color… is knowing that my feelings are valid.” Much of Kasheka’s desire to create positive change comes from growing up as a woman of color. If there is someone who is making sexist jokes or racist comments, say something. She finds that most of the time, people perpetuate inequalities by invalidating the feelings of those who are experiencing the inequalities themselves.

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You don’t need to calm down. There’s no reason to calm down. Stay angry.

She tributes much of her attitude toward making social change to this quote: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Young women tend to be silenced most, in her experience. Kasheka has often been labeled as the ‘crazy liberal’. While this brought her down and inevitably silenced her and her opinions, she came to learn that being silent only perpetuates social problems. “That’s a tool for people who don’t want change, is to tell you to be quiet.” Your voice is your power; use it.

Much of the social inequalities in our society take root in microaggressions. “If you don’t fight the microaggressions right when they happen, it’s never going to change.” Among her causes are women’s rights, racial inequality, ethnic inequality, and LGBTQ+ rights. The microaggressions we see in the LGBTQ+ realm, for example, go back to the fragile state of mainstream Western masculinity. “How do you tell people that it is okay to not be masculine?”

This issue of masculinity is extremely ingrained in culture, and is also part of why sexism toward women exists. Masculinity is praised whereas femininity is told to hide away. Kasheka says that her problem is not with those who are masculine, but with a society that just keeps pushing for the superiority of one gender over another. “The only thing that we can really do is facilitate an environment where people know it’s okay to express themselves no matter their gender.”

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We’re just humans. We shouldn’t be forced to have these standards shoved down our throats our entire lives.

Of course, men are affected by sexism too, just in different ways. She clarifies to me that as a feminist, she stands for the equality of all genders for whatever might stand in their way to acceptance. At the end of the day, Kasheka explains that this sort of change comes from within; no one can make another person change what they believe in. That is why positive change takes so long to come about.

To other young women, she wants them to know and acknowledge that their feelings are valid, always. “You’re allowed to be upset. There’s no reason you should be quiet about something.” She can recount the times she has stayed silent, and wishes she had spoken up. No one should have to subjected to the repercussions of social inequality, and everyone has a right to their voice. It’s a simple tool, with the power to dismantle even the greatest of inequalities.

As a final word from Kasheka, I asked her how many times on average she hurts herself trying to dance in the shower. “I think I was singing Sweet Caroline, and I was having a moment, and then I knocked down the shampoo bottles down, and they landed on my toe!” This never happens less than once weekly while fighting the powers that be.

Tuesday Spotlight: Kasheka Chitkara

Spotlight Tuesday: Victoria Eastman

Victoria Eastman is an International Business Marketing major at Bryant University, studying French and Communication as a double minor. She cares a lot about traveling the world and exploring how different people live their lives. She wants to experience all of the crazy, weird things life has to offer, and knows that these make the best of stories. Victoria is especially motivated to make the world a better place.

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“If everyone tried to be a little less sucky, then the world would be better.”

Victoria is the kind of person you could talk to for hours and not even realize it! This interview came closer to a conversation, and it really opened my eyes to how this lady sees the world: massive and unexplored, waiting to be adventured. Her sunny personality and driven mind will keep you reading this article to its end.

Victoria lives to be less sucky: she’s vegetarian, thrift shops to decrease the impact of the fashion industry on the environment, and involves herself in multicultural events to expand her horizons. Her mission in life is to explore the world and making it just a bit better than it once was. Part of that mission includes experiencing as much as she can: “I get so bored so easily; I hate doing the same things over and over again.”

She loves learning new things—even when they have nothing to do with her own path. She referred me to this TEDTalk which focused on using architecture to heal communities. Nothing about her studies even touch on architecture, and she is completely serious when she tells me that these random nuggets of knowledge fascinate her. The way she says it, how could anyone not love to learn something new?

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 “Learning is not something you’re forced to do; its something you have to do.”

She attributes this thirst for knowledge to her first eight years of education, where she attended a school where the students designed their education. “It has its good parts and its bad parts because I definitely have holes in my learning… but I’m a really good writer because I spent all my time writing!” Learning became a fun experience, and one that could go on her whole life. When students have a say in what they get to learn, they are so much more motivated to pursue it.

Part of her education included cultural exploration. “I went to London in fifth grade and before that, for a year, we had to prep.” Her class spent the year becoming knowledgeable of English history and culture. She got to do the same preceding trips to Iceland and Canada as well. During those years, Victoria memorized how to map the world.

When asked about her greatest dream, she paused. “I have lots of dreams, and I have a new dream every single day… I actually kind of like not having one big dream because sometimes I think you can limit yourself by having a concrete idea of what you want.” True to her mission to keep learning and experiencing new things, she keeps her goals fluid. She is considering diplomacy, but several other career paths call to her.

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What really got Victoria talking was her dreams for the future of marketing. “Marketing can just be a means of informing people… especially in terms of nonprofits.” Whether it’s a consumer product or a humanitarian crisis, people need to know the facts. Much of televised media, she says, simply does not talk about the important issues it needs to acknowledge. By using the power of marketing and advertising, the social sector can grow and raise awareness. But, this goes back to changing how advertising and televised media work.

Another dream is opening a boutique of sustainable women’s attire that emphasizes empowering the modern woman. Victoria explains that she would want to create a brand that encompasses real women of real sizes. She wants her depiction of this modern woman to include both homemakers and business women and anyone in between—they are underrepresented in the fashion realm. “A modern woman could care about [ethical issues], but doesn’t have any options, doesn’t know where to look, so she goes someplace that’s convenient.”

There are plenty of outdoors companies like Patagonia and L.L. Bean that she mentions are sustainable and ethical. “These companies are awesome, but they sell to your stereotypical hippie.” These companies won’t be selling slacks and blouses anytime soon—it just isn’t their market. Victoria believes that if there were more sustainable and ethical clothing options, people would be more aware of what they were buying.

“People think that its the corporations that have power, but the reason they have power is because you’re paying for that power.”

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Victoria uses the power of her dollar to make a difference, and this becomes apparent when she explains her rationale for being vegetarian. “I don’t support the meat packing industry… There’s a circle of life, I get that but it’s the way that [animals] are treated.” We are able to educate ourselves about the products we buy, and I think that Victoria is asking us to do just that. Everything we buy, from our clothes to our food, has a profound impact on what makes it to the shelves in store.

Beyond making conscious consumer decisions, Victoria talks seriously about being a woman in society. “I am a white woman from a middle class family—I have it easy, comparatively.” She has found that her experience as a woman has been wrought with constant reminders that because of her gender, she can’t be taken seriously. After some time, it is hard not to internalize such a thing. “Oh, and I’m blonde—the amount of times I get blonde jokes.”

In retaliation to this struggle, she has been keeping up the routine of faking it until she’s making it. “In college… you have to go and conduct interviews, and spend a good majority of time telling yourself that you’re awesome.” Confidence is key; Victoria observes how guys give presentations compared to girls in  her classes. As expected, the guys are full of confidence, even when they have all the information wrong. The girls, even when they know what they are talking about, are quiet by comparison.

“People expect me to be basic, because I am white and blonde and I wear certain things, and I ‘seem’ basic.”

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It is a consistent trend between the genders—men generally overestimate their abilities, while women underestimate their abilities. It goes back to how we are socialized, and those norms are really hard to break away from. She tells other young women to reinforce confidence by talking to our peers. Friends make some of the best backers you can get, so talk to them! Focus on strengths, and fake it until you make it.

Another piece of advice is picking a passion. “I feel like people go through life not caring about things.” Find something that makes you happy and pursue it. Having a purpose makes life that much more of an adventure. Get rid of the unnecessary, the social molds, and anything holding you back. “I have a limited number of hours in a day, I have a lot going on, I have a lot that I want to get accomplished… I have a lot I need to do! I don’t have time for this crap I don’t care about.”

I’d like to leave the reader with this quote from Victoria:

“They think because you’re young, you’re stupid. Really, when you’re young, you’re just stupid enough to actually do something about being unhappy.” 

 

Spotlight Tuesday: Victoria Eastman

Spotlight Tuesday: Liz Oluokun

Elizabeth Oluokun, better known as Liz, is a Communications and Business Management student at Bryant University. Born in Nigeria, she came to the United States with her family at six years old. After some time in Tennessee, she came up to Worcester, Massachusetts. The second oldest of seven children now lives in Framingham.

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MG: What gets you out of bed in the morning?

EO: Definitely my family.

For this story, I met up with Liz on a Monday evening, in between multiple meetings for both of us. We like to keep busy! Liz has a voice that captures the crowd. It is clear, confident, and genuine. When interviewing her for this story, I was left inspired, and I hope you will be too!

When Liz first came to America, her family struggled financially. Moving across the world is no small feat, and to move to a country you’ve never been to? That’s a huge deal. This drove Liz to pursue a degree in business–if she can graduate, get a job, and make a lot of money, she can give her a family a better life.

After considering a path to a finance career, Liz discovered she hated working with numbers. In her own words, “The thing is I didn’t think I’d need to be a finance guru to help start that company, but I realized I should probably know a lot about finance in order to do that.” With a laugh, she moves on to explain her new plan of action: starting a nonprofit geared toward immigrant students that helps them adjust to life in America.

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When people come to America, they forget their culture and I made the mistake of doing that when I first came here.

When immigrants come to the States, or move to any new country in general, there is an adjustment curve. With that adjustment, sometimes original culture is lost. In an effort to fit in, we forget where we came from. With a positive force, she explains, “I want to help students realize that they are at an advantage of helping themselves and other people and they shouldn’t let go of where they came from.” Helping students hold onto their own culture while learning a new one? That’s pretty rad.

As a college student, she finds that her greatest struggle is in helping her peers realize there is a life off campus. Exasperated, she says, “I always talk about the Bryant Bubble.” Following the election, Liz lead a peaceful rally on campus in order to bring people on campus together in a positive way. While her silent protest stood in the most populated area on campus, the Rotunda, students passing by had no idea how to react. Liz, and other students, stood still and unmoving while crowds tried to get by. The whole event, to them, was bizarre.

People feel uncomfortable addressing issues of race and xenophobia, especially in a college environment that is so far removed from reality. But, as college students, we need to learn how to be uncomfortable and we need to understand that the vastness of the world gives way to a diverse population. For Liz, getting people to just try to put themselves in the shoes of others is tough, but she continues to do so through events on campus, and reaching out to people in her campus community.

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People don’t understand what’s going on, and I think the reason that I understand so much is because it affects me in two ways: 1. I’m a woman, and 2. I’m black.

On being a woman, Liz is insightful. “I think that when women take on a role, they don’t want to be labeled as the girl who is overpowering.” In a heavily patriarchal society, there are many examples of women that attempt to be the leader and somehow end up being put down for it. Whether it’s Sheryl Sandberg or Michelle Obama, ambitious women are awfully criticized. According to Liz, “stop letting people and what people say dissuade [you].”

Women tend to be their own greatest critics, too. “Even we as girls, we do it to each other. We’re like, ‘yeah, take a step back, relax’. Like, no, you don’t have to relax. Stand together, and encourage each other to continually do what they want to do.” She laughs as she says this, because it is a frustrating truth. The best way for women everywhere to advance and overcome obstacles is to band together. Take the lead, keep striving to be your best self, and don’t let the patriarchy get you down.

Your full potential will only be realized when you continually do the things that you do best.

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As a final word from Liz, I asked her my top secret interview question: “On average, how many times a week do you hurt yourself trying to dance in the shower?” Insert laughing emoji here, ladies. An avid dancing shower queen, this is a regular occurrence, apparently. “And I just got the iPhone 7 and it’s waterproof so you can actually take it in the shower—that doesn’t help the situation either!”

Spotlight Tuesday: Liz Oluokun