March is Women’s History Month. The Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) asked students, faculty and staff around campus to talk about the importance of this month, in their own words, through the lenses of their identities and experiences.
by Kianna Notermann
Meet Simran Mishra. Simran is a sophomore in Carlson School of Management majoring in Finance, with minors in Computer Science and Math. Simran moved to Minnesota from Mumbai, India when she was nine years old, and had a long journey of finding acceptance from her peers and herself. She is a member of the OED Student Advisory Team, as well as the Co-Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) and is currently running for student body Vice President. (You can find more info about MSA elections here.) Here is her story:
“I am studying Finance with minors in Computer Science and Math, and all of those fields are predominantly male. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a class relating to any of those subjects where women have been the majority. In fact, one of the finance classes I’m taking right now is maybe 20% women. My computer science classes are maybe 10-15% women. It can be discouraging sometimes. I’ve personally never let it stop me, but what’s even more discouraging is when you get comments like, “Wow, you’re a woman of color in this field so everything will be handed to you.” They don’t understand the experiences and the struggles of being a woman of color in finance or math or computer science. They don’t understand what it really feels like when you’re immediately discounted by a lot of people when you walk into a room. You have to constantly prove yourself, prove your worth, and prove that this is what you love and this is what you want to do. That itself is one of the most frustrating things about being a woman of color in these fields, but I would also say there is something very beautiful in how a lot of us have come together. We stand together and support each other no matter what. A lot of my friends in computer science or finance are women, and are women of color who inspire me and push me and make me feel like I can do anything.
Women’s History Month is about celebrating the past, all of our accomplishments, and celebrating our fight for equality but also looking ahead and seeing all of the work we have left to do. A lot of that work, whether it’s women’s history or the Women’s March, revolves around being inclusive of all identities. As Co-Director of the Diversity & Inclusion committee of [the Minnesota Student Association], we still see that when people talk about feminism or being a woman, it’s often about cis, white females. Even when we’re celebrating history, whether in art of science, it’s usually stories about cis, white women. That doesn’t feel like a celebration of all femmes.
Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, is one of the first Indian women to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. There are very few women and even fewer women of color who run a Fortune 500 company. What really inspires me is that Indra is not only a CEO, but she encourages other women to succeed in business. Her approach to leading in her company is all about bringing people together, being inclusive, and being authentic and humble. She doesn’t wear shoes in the office; she walks around in socks. She’s outgoing and open, and knows when it’s time to do business, but also realizes that not everything is about work. I really appreciate that and look up to her for that. I see myself in her and want to be in that position, hopefully one day!
All of the microaggressions I’ve experienced are intricately tied. It’s not just about me being female, or about me being a person of color, instead it’s usually combinations of both. One I get a lot is, “Wow, your name is so exotic.” It’s a multi-faceted comment. It has to do with the fact that I’m multicultural AND I’m a woman, because they’d never say something like that to a man. An Indian man might be told his name is interesting or different, but rarely will he be told that it is “exotic.” Exotic is a descriptive word for plants and animals, not people. It’s hard to explain to someone that comments like this perpetuate the objectification and fetishization of multicultural women. It’s even harder to explain how all of this goes back to systemic misogyny and racism.
Another is, “You speak English so well.” I am an immigrant so I usually get that one when I tell people that I moved here when I was 9. I’m still shocked that people don’t realize that people outside of the US or English-speaking countries speak English, perpetuating the stereotype that if you’re not white, you don’t speak English.
The immediate difference between here and my home country is that I used to be in the majority, now I’m in the minority. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s allowed me to grow a lot, just being able to walk around campus and see people from different nationalities and ethnicities and religions. I’m happy to be in a country that was built by immigrants and still run by immigrants and people of various background and identities. I’m so grateful, and I always like to mention that first. The initial transition when moving here from Mumbai was difficult; acceptance was hard. People accepting me was one thing, but I also struggled to accept myself. You feel like you stand out but all you want to do is assimilate. You aren’t proud of your culture, necessarily. My mom used to make me very Indian meals to take to school for lunch, and I was so embarrassed that I would throw them away. I would go without eating before revealing my differences. I look back and that breaks my heart because, while part of me knows that I would have been made fun of, part of me was ashamed of my own culture at that time. The journey of accepting yourself is looked over a lot in this context. Yes, you’ll assimilate. Yes, you’ll eventually understand how this new country works. However, you still have to be able to accept yourself and be proud of your culture. I am proud of who I am, who I was, but also who I am becoming. I am proud of the fact that I am both American and Indian, and the balance between the two.
I now feel accepted on both sides, as an American and as an Indian immigrant. It’s tough, though. I sometimes feel like I’ll never truly be at home in America, but I also feel like I’ll never truly be at home in India since I have backgrounds in both. A lot of other immigrants and international students feel this way, too. They feel like they’ve assimilated into this culture to a point that they can never fit in back home. At the same time, they can never let go of home enough to completely fit in here.
[Header Image Credit: Kianna Notermann, 2017]