- Can you tell us a about yourself and your interests?
I am a sophomore triple major at the University of Rhode Island. At the University, I am the President of the Rhetoric Society and UN Student Association, a teaching assistant, a research assistant in the Harrington School of Communication & Media, the Staff Writer for the College of Arts & Sciences, and a Coastal & Environmental Fellow. Outside of academics, from a young age, I have been a dedicated advocate for the blind and (like myself) visually impaired, and for people with disabilities across the spectrum. My activism bridges the disability-gender intersection. My work, which began locally, has led me to the United Nations. I hold the title of UN Outstanding Youth, have served as USA Delegate in several capacities, and am on the UN Women Task Force for Youth and Gender Equality.
My ultimate career goal is to become an academic, to research the intersectionalities, inequalities, and interplays of power and domination. I believe that scholarship is my own most potent form of activism. I will never cease my role as an advocate, and some of the most critical components of advocacy and social change are the academic components that fuel the progress. My aspiration, once I complete my undergraduate education of course, is to complete graduate and doctoral degrees that grant me fluency in rhetoric, speech communication, and philosophy. I strive to make academe my home, to critique, study, and pass on the teachings of these cross-disciplinary fields in the humanities, especially as those disciplines pertain to the political sphere.
When I’m not studying or advocating, I usually am geeking out over my latest read, otherwise generally being a massive sci-fi/fantasy nerd, teaching Kripalu Yoga, or exploring new-to-me places with my fabulously spunky black Lab Guide Dog for the Blind named Ingrid.
- What are your areas of study at the University of Rhode Island?
My majors are Communication Studies, Political Science, and Philosophy. I am currently self-designing a minor in Rhetoric, and I would like to pick up another minor—in Biology, Gender & Women’s Studies, or Classical Studies—if I can. I enjoy bridging the gap between the humanities, social sciences, and sciences; although most of my focus is in the humanities and social sciences, much of my co-curricular work, beyond research in rhetoric, is in the biological, environmental, or physical sciences.
- With such diversity in your different majors, do you see reproductive freedom as an intersection to these different fields?
Most definitely. I actually started out with a Biology major, because I wanted to learn about the moral and ethical implications of modern science research on things like reproduction, the environment, and our overall wellbeing. It did not take me long to discover that, for my personal goals, the best place to learn about these phenomena were in my Philosophy and Communication courses, not necessarily in my science classes. My continued work in the sciences allows me insight into these issues from that angle, but training to be a rhetorician and a philosopher requires me to consider how mainstream political and social philosophy can be shaped or changed in the first place. These fields challenge me to examine the moral structures of social norms and religion in issues of gender inequality, reproductive freedom, and a woman’s agency over her own body. Rhetoric, in particular, grapples with the questions of how best to argue for an issue with heavier social or moral implications, emphasizing the navigation hierarchical symbol-systems we inhabit. The Political Science field brings insight into policies that can help disintegrate years of gendered hierarchy, which in turn can allow us to move towards reproductive freedom.
- How did you come to do work with the UN? How has your work with the UN changed your perspectives on the U.S.?
I began my UN affiliation in my senior year of high school. An honors society of which I was a part contacted certain students with activism, public service, and advocacy experience with an opportunity to apply to a program called the Youth Assembly at the United Nations. I applied, was accepted, and traveled to the United Nation’s International Headquarters in New York City to gather with hundreds of selected young leaders from throughout the world. From a young age, I have been a state and local advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, especially young people, students, and women. The opportunity to take my advocacy to the UN was a significant one and opened many doors, including opportunities to meet with political leaders.
While I was at the Assembly, I was selected for the competitive United Nations Outstanding Youth Award, because of my commitment to carrying out the UN’s mission at home, my dedication to advocacy work on behalf of women with disabilities, my academic record, an interview process, and my comportment throughout the Assembly’s workshops, lobbying opportunities, and other events. The next thing I knew – it is still a bit of a surreal moment to consider, and it all seemed to happen very quickly – a few representatives of UN Women approached me. I was then invited to serve on the Youth and Gender Equality Task Force and to participate in their small but passionate community of international advocates for intersectional disability-gender-sexuality rights. This led to several opportunities to be a USA Delegate to UN meetings, some presentations on the UN floor, involvement in policy work through UN Women, and incredible opportunities to work as an international spokesperson for the rights of a massive community of people that rarely gets press. I have had exciting, rare opportunities that surpass any of my expectations, including a presentation at the Commission on the Status of Women, which is one of the most respected United Nations events and a hub for international gender rights activists, just this month.
My work with the UN has shown me how lucky we are in the US to have the freedoms and comforts we have, but it has also demonstrated to me that—in terms of gender equity especially—we have quite a long way to go in comparison to some other member-states. For example, our politics are often so polarized and partisan that they affect the government’s ability to actually enact gender-related human rights laws or to ratify CEDAW (the UN’s international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). We are one of only seven member-states to not ratify CEDAW, and the diversity of US states’ laws on women’s rights—especially reproductive agency—make it challenging for the UN to even assess the US’s efficacy in providing these rights.
- Can you tell us a little more about CEDAW?
CEDAW, or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), was established in the UN in 1979. It is basically one big bill of rights for women. It articulates what it means to discriminate against women and sets up an agenda so that member-states can take action, through policy or otherwise, end such discrimination. CEDAW says that discrimination against women is, “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” As such, UN member-states that ratify CEDAW are saying that they commit themselves to ending discrimination against women in all forms within their borders, including dismantling discriminatory laws and establishing laws to help achieve equity. They must submit reports every few years to demonstrate their work in achieving gender parity, and they are legally bound to put CEDAW’s efforts into practice. CEDAW is also notable as the only treaty for human rights that establishes women’s reproductive rights. Of the 194 UN member-states, only seven have not ratified CEDAW. These states are: Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Nauru, Tonga, Palau, and the United States.
- As you know, The Woman Project has been working to pass the Reproductive Health Care Act in Rhode Island. What advice do you have for our readers about the best way they can advocate for the Reproductive Health Care Act in the State House?
Remember that information you have—particularly including the wisdom gained through lived experience—is the most powerful tool in formulating a solid piece of advocacy. Share your voice and your knowledge, in person, on social media, or over the phone, with your representative. Especially for this issue, every voice matters and no one person will be the champion of success; it takes everyone working together, speaking out with purpose. Rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke said: “You can persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying our ways with his.” For any activist venture with potential polarization, like this one, I advise knowing the other sides of the arguments as well as you can—understanding what your audience might be thinking or feeling—and navigating that accordingly.