I walked up to the podium, overwhelmed by a combination of nervousness and excitement. I felt love pouring out from the people in the room, a crowd of diverse individuals who I met over the course of four years at Oberlin. Most importantly, my mother, who had not attended college, sat in the front row, supporting me on an issue she too fought against. As an academic and activist, presenting my senior honors thesis on female genital cutting was the capstone of my Oberlin experience.
When I arrived at Oberlin, I wanted to learn more about social justice, gender issues, and medicine. I sought to understand the key issues relevant to women of the African Diaspora. Three years later, I had double majored in Gender and Women’s Studies (GAWS) and African American Studies (AAST), with a minor in Chemistry, after completing my pre-med requirements. Being interdisciplinary felt right to me. I love learning, and my own life sits at so many intersections. At Oberlin, I felt at home with my peers who were passionate about using their academic studies for social change.
One of the core beliefs in African American Studies is that knowledge, once obtained, must be shared. In Gender and Women’s Studies classes, I learned that “the personal is political.” With these principles guiding me, I decided to begin a research project on my own immigrant community. Thanks to my professors in GAWS, AAST, and even some assistance from my Chemistry advisor, I explored an issue I have spent countless time thinking over: female genital cutting (FCG). I threw myself into the research process, drafting interview protocols and seeking the help of other peers. During my research, I found out about the African Conference on Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights in Nigeria. With sheer determination, I managed to raise enough money from ten academic departments, organizations and grants to cover my cost to attend the conference. After this conference, I committed to a career in reproductive health and rights. I am now pursuing a master’s degree in public health with a dual concentration in Epidemiology and Maternal and Child Health.
My mother often tells me that I can’t have it all at once. However, I found in Oberlin that I was able to find that balance between academia and social justice. At Oberlin, I was academically pushed in classes, and socially inspired in different organizations. There probably won’t ever be a place that encourages so many cross-disciplinary opportunities. Now, as a class-elected trustee, I am still able to stay involved with the community that I love. I learned in Oberlin that when choices are presented to you, say yes to what feels right, work smartly, and have fun.