4th Quarter, 2005
Minority Scholarship Winner
“My family comes from Bombay, India, and I was born in Chicago. I spent my early teen years as an expatriate in Dubai, U.A.E., and then returned to Chicago. I speak Hindi and Urdu and have studied Arabic. My family practices Islam during a time when American Muslims are heavily persecuted. This has been a formative part of my identity. I recently presented a paper at Emory Law School’s Feminism and Legal Theory Conference about Muslim women and human rights. Eventually, I hope to contribute to the resources available to women of color in the United States, in terms of developing research and services that are culturally competent. I want to work toward building alliances between different populations of color and understanding the similarities between all of our struggles.”
A Portion of Nazia’s Winning Essay:
As an economics major at Northwestern, I often found myself frustrated with how the subject was taught. All too often, a problem would be preceded with “for now, let’s ignore the social costs.” Following that stipulation would be a formal cost-benefit analysis of the topic at hand. I did the work mechanically, baffled by the ability of many social scientists to study issues without correctly accounting for social costs. How could “the cost of a plane crash” be quantified by the sum of the income of everybody on board (multiplied by the remaining years they were expected to live), the cost of the damaged airplane, any insurance payoffs, and airline legal fees? Though often frustrating and exceedingly theoretical, my exposure to economics has equipped me with a vocabulary and logic that are invaluable in the social sciences.
In stark contrast to my education in economics, usually taught with graphs and textbooks, I have my training as a social worker. My hours in the classroom at Columbia’s School of Social Work, my experience working with New York’s formerly homeless population, and my policy-level work with South Asian survivors of domestic violence in New York City were far from theoretical. This combination of knowledge of the science of economics and concrete work with social problems in the modern city has provided me with a comprehensive approach to social science, which I hope to contribute as a doctoral student in sociology in the years to come.
I hope to use this unique perspective to unravel numerous questions facing communities of color. Exceedingly, I find that authoritative discussions about racially marginalized communities are carried out by people who do not belong to the groups in question. It can be quite frustrating to read a study about single African American mothers by an author who has limited insight into being an African American woman in the US. Similarly, discussions of post-September 11th civil rights relating to Arab and South Asian communities often lack a cultural competency when dictated by Western terms. Along the same lines, while earning my Masters degree at Columbia, I noticed that often times discussions in social work and social policy courses used language that implied that “we” need to help “them”. I found this language problematic, as it is indicative of how differences can be so profound between the provider and recipient of a service that the service itself ceases to be effective.
Also, I feel my contributions to discussions of race and ethnicity will be valuable. All too often, Asian Americans are excluded from discussions relating to people of color. We are told we are the “model minority”. Of course, my model minority status never helped me as the sole brown face growing up in suburbia. When an eighth grade teacher decided to play the movie Gandhi for our history class, he did not expect the barrage of jokes and insults poking fun at Gandhi’s accent or his wife’s attire. Am I truly to believe that I have been spared from racism that all people of color are exposed to because people think I’m good at science?
The dearth of progressive research in academia by those who have directly experienced marginalization needs to be addressed immediately. As a South Asian woman with Muslim parents, I am prepared to claim a voice in the discussion of race and civil rights during this contentious phase in American history. I am certain that my identity will be an advantageous factor in my sociological work. As a woman of color, my discussions of relevant issues will have a sense of urgency and cultural competency. As a social worker, my theoretical work will remain applicable to concrete social problems.
I wish to explore further how women’s rights issues are considered a hindrance to social movements among oppressed groups. I am also concerned with racism among communities of color in the United States and the role of September 11th as a divisive or uniting force among various racial and ethnic populations. I am also interested in identity formation among first and second generation immigrants and changes in these trends with global political incidents. Most importantly, however, I hope to persistently conduct this research with special attention to the need for cultural competency in academic language.
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