Nowmee Shehab 16C is the Vice President of External Affairs for Emory Pride, and was recently featured in the Ms. Magazine Blog for her work on sexual violence on campus.
Lilly Correa 73C, Co-Chair of GALA, recently interviewed Nowmee for this newsletter.
LC: You are a transfer student from Smith. Why did you decide to attend Emory?
NS: After my first year at Smith, I took a year off and did an AmeriCorps Program in Boston called City Year. During that year my academic and personal goals became clearer to me, and I knew I wanted to attend a big research university that had a liberal arts college and was close to a city. Emory was the perfect pick!
LC: What do you see as the intersectionalities, or lack thereof, of your background, including your race, color, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression? How has your time at Emory helped promote the intersectionality of these different backgrounds for you or other students?
NS: I immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh when I was 16, and my South Asian community and broadly the people of color community have been very important to me. Last year, I was one of the co-facilitators of the Queer Students of Color Discussion Group through the Office of LGBT Life. It has helped me a lot to find that safe space here at Emory. I also work at the Center for Women at Emory, and am involved with the Respect Program. My involvement with them has helped me find folks who share the same values as I, and delve deeper into what it means to be a queer woman of color.
LC: Tell us about your summer internship? What were highlights or disappointments?
NS: D.C. is an amazing place to be during the summer, and I am really grateful that I was given the opportunity to be here this summer. I am a Victory Institute Congressional intern at Congressman Cicilline’s office. The Victory Institute promotes leadership within young LGBT people interested in public service. The program has 7 other interns placed in various Congressional offices and Committees. It has been incredible getting to know these 7 peer leaders from across the country, sharing our experiences and discussing the ways that young people are tackling the issues of our generation. Being on the Hill has been a great experience; my favorite aspect has been going to the different issue and bill briefings. I’ve had the chance to listen to key leaders talk about the unemployment crisis, immigration reform, and sexual violence prevention. Notably I’ve gone to several panels on international LGBT rights organized by the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also had the chance to engage in some LGBT organizations in D.C. I have been volunteering with the National Center for Transgender Equality to help plan their Hill Lobby Day. I am really happy that I got to experience what it is like working on the Hill and working in an advocacy group. I think it has helped me consolidate my plan for the future.
LC: Tell us about your activism. Did it start in high school? Was there a defining event?
NS: Both of my parents were student activists, and continued to serve the public healthcare system in Bangladesh throughout their lives. Growing up with their teachings of building supportive communities and their staunch commitment to public service helped shape my worldview. Though, I remember a moment of my childhood that really propelled me to start thinking about inequality. I think I was about 12 years old, and I witnessed a garment workers strike right in front of my apartment. One of my neighbors was the manager of a factory, and the workers were protesting because they hadn’t gotten paid in 2 months. The workers were also my neighbors who lived in a shanty town down the street. This experience really got me thinking about power in our society and the importance of community organizing in getting marginalized voices heard. I started volunteering at a community service organization when I was 14, and have been involved in non-profit and activist organizations ever since.
LC: So tell me a little bit about your involvement with Emory Pride and your role as a facilitator?
NS: I was one of the co-facilitators of the Queer Students of Color Discussion Group last year. I was also the Publicity Representative for Emory Pride spring semester of last year, and I am proud to say that I will start serving as the Vice President of External Affairs this year.
LC: What kinds of issues are important to Emory Pride and any facilitator groups you may belong to?
NS: It is really important to me that Emory Pride keeps its focus on being a safe space for LGBT students, educating our campus on LGBT issues, and centering the most marginalized voices in our community in our programming and actions. We have done a lot of identity focused programming in the past year which has been helpful to many students including myself. I would like to expand this and have political advocacy programming that engages LGBT students and allies on topics like healthcare and housing equity, immigration reform, prison reform, reproductive justice and how all of that is linked to LGBT equality.
LC: Are there other spaces where you think LGBT students are finding voice on campus?
NS: Fortunately, I think LGBT students are finding their voices all across campus through SGA, Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, Resident Life and Housing, and through various student organizations. It is great that LGBT students are finding leadership and community in different pockets of campus.
LC: What are your priorities or goals for the next academic year?
NS: First and foremost I hope to continue being a supportive and loving daughter, sister, friend and community member. I am also committed to being a good student. I am a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major, and I am excited to delve into my third year of studying the discipline. The classes this year seem very interesting. Additionally I am very excited about the plan to create a Center for Diversity and Inclusion that would promote collaboration between OMPS, Center for Women, and Office of LGBT Life.
LC: What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from the GALA and other alums of Emory?
NS: I think a clear and streamlined way of connecting with GALA Alums would be very helpful. The previous Out at Work, Out at Healthcare, etc. panels have been very helpful, and similar professional development programming would be really great.
LC: If you could ask for anything from the administration, what—if anything—would it be?
NS: In my experience, something that we don’t talk about enough (or at all) in any spaces at Emory is who is not at the table, i.e. who are the students who are not at Emory because of economic, social and political oppression. Even though Emory is a welcoming space for a diverse group of people, we still need to do a lot to make Emory accessible to trans people, especially trans women of color, undocumented people and low-income students. I would ask the administration to make clearer pathways for marginalized students to access funding and make the process transparent.