As I prepare to graduate in just 6 short days (*sobs), I’m looking back at all my time here while also looking forward to my next adventure. Part of what defined my experience here was my growth in feminism. Prior to college, I would not have called myself a feminist. I would have told you that I believe in equality between men and women, but I didn’t understand that that’s what feminism is fighting for, really the equality of everyone. Now, I’m graduating with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies (highly recommend), and my friends know me as “the feminist one” and get annoyed with my rants sometimes.
Feminism has been a large part of my time at JMU, it has shaped my time here as much as the organizations I’ve been a part of and my major courses. I’ve grown in knowledge and empathy, and expanded my world view. Going out into the real world, where I don’t have the bubble of a liberal arts school and the like-minded people I surround myself with, would be scary even if that’s all I was doing.
Not only will I be doing that though, I’ll actually be moving to Zambia to serve in the Peace Corps. After having gone through this feminist evolution in college, I’m concerned about moving somewhere that’s not as progressive as the United States is. As many issues as we have here, at least being openly gay is not illegal, education is easily available all the way through high school no matter what your gender, and HIV/AIDS is not nearly as prevalent. And that’s just to name a few. Feminism here is intersectional, it means fighting for the rights of everyone, not just women, or women and the LGBTQ+ community, but fighting all systems of oppression. In Zambia, just like many more countries in the global south, feminism is still in the phase similar to our second wave.
My question, then, is how do I translate my feminism in a way that both stays true to my values while also respecting a culture I will be immersed in for over two years? Peace Corps in Zambia participates in the Let Girls Learn initiative, which works to make sure as many girls around the world complete secondary education in order to promote gender awareness long-term. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to work with this. Other than this, my best thought at this stage is to just engage in conversation with the people I meet there, staying respectful for their values while trying to promote a world with more rights for everyone.
I’m excited about the next adventure in my life and I plan to take my relatively new-found feminism into it. So thank you to everyone here at JMU who fostered that growth. If you’re looking for a minor, or just want to learn a little bit more, check out the classes! And while you’re doing that, also maybe send good vibes to me, the ginger girl going to sub-Saharan Africa that will be constantly sunburned for two years.
Featured Image: National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution, Flickr, CC