As Women's History Month draws to a close, meet three inspiring women from the College of Marin community who share their reflections, challenges, and sources of inspiration.
Sadika Sulaiman Hara, Director of Student Activities and Advocacy
Meg Pasquel, English and Humanities Instructor
Colleen Mihal, Communication Instructor
Who is a woman that has inspired you the most and why?
Sadika Sulaiman Hara
Michelle Obama. I admire her ability to move through some of the most difficult situations and still find ways to remain grounded in her identities and purpose to “go high when they go low.” I have read both of her books and am inspired by her vulnerability and willingness to share her truths. She exemplifies what it means to be powerful, while embracing moments of fear and doubt. I love that!
I can’t point to one individual for this question because women around me inspire me every day. I am inspired by the ambition and dedication of the young women in my classes, the creativity and generosity of the women with whom I work, the comradery and accomplishments of the women who I call friends, and the support and unconditional love from the women in my family. All of these women inspire me to do and be better.
So many women have inspired me! Of course, I must acknowledge my mom, an artist and art teacher, and her mother- who was a single mom in the 1960s. She worked full-time at Bell Telephone and supported her two daughters. My dad’s mom was a small business owner and my two grandmothers on his side came to the U.S. from Slovakia when they were 16.
Then there are the incredible women I work with at COM- they know who they are! And my students- Bright, brilliant, creative, empowered, brave, hard-working, and visionary. It may sound cliché, but hearing their stories and aspirations is a constant source of inspiration!
I find new inspiration in the stories I read. Working with Umoja I have had the opportunity to learn about the women of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Movement. I have gained a profound and deep respect for their wisdom, courage, sacrifice, kindness, and sheer brilliance. I am always learning!
What challenges have you faced as a woman in your field or industry and how have you overcome them?
Sadika Sulaiman Hara
I have often been one of the few, if not only, women of color in leadership circles when there are conversations about policies and change. I have learned so much since my graduate school days and find that I am more clearly rooted in my purpose to speak truth when it comes to how policies impact diversity, social justice, and identity. I have developed and worked on my ability to be courageous and show up when it comes to difficult conversations because I know it matters – it matters because there are systemic issues rooted in white supremacy that affect the lives of students every day. It takes a lot of practice, and I am committed to facing the fears and trepidation that come up for me and seek the community support to keep me going.
I think the biggest challenge for a woman in academia (and probably elsewhere) is to exemplify characteristics stereotypically reserved for males. Often, when a woman finds herself in a leadership position and wields any power, being tough, driven and aggressive is seen as detrimental, whereas these qualities in male leadership strategies are lauded. The double standard still looms large in institutional leadership.
There are many challenges I have faced as a woman in my professional and academic career. Some are the more commonplace microaggressions. For example, like when someone greets me and a male colleague and uses my first name but the professional title and last name of my male colleague. Or when inappropriate comments are made about my attire, age, or looks. Or when people express surprise when they find I have my PhD. And it isn’t just men that engage in sexist behavior - internalized oppression is a devastating and brutal patriarchal weapon that works to turn women on women. Some of the things I have experience are more serious and carry trauma, like gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
As a white, cisgender woman I also recognize that my experience, despite its challenges, is shaped by the fact the colonial institutions of higher education privilege me in many ways. So, while I have experienced certain challenges because of my gender, there are many I have been exempt from. This is not to discount my challenges but to acknowledge the importance of using an intersectional frame when speaking out against and challenging sexism and gender discrimination in industry, academia, and higher education. For more on this, I recommend Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TedTalk “The Urgency of Intersectionality” - she coined the term “intersectional feminism!”
How do you balance your personal and professional life?
Sadika Sulaiman Hara
This is funny because I used to use the word “balance,” until I read an article written by a female CEO who said that there is no such thing as “balance” in her experience. She instead said she “manages,” the multiple elements of her life. So, since then, and because it resonates with me, I say I manage my personal and professional life. I try really hard to institute personal boundaries around time and priorities, whether it is work or personal. I know that if I don’t do it, no one else will. And, for my mental, emotional, and physical health, I have learned more than ever, especially over the shut-down, how critical this is for my wellness.
Very carefully and with a health respect for “me” time.
What keeps me going is the support from my circle. What I would recommend for women starting their careers is to seek out people, regardless of gender, that authentically support you and support women. People that build you up. Ones you can trust. Those that you can ask for help. Be that person to them. Some things are worth fighting against and fighting for and others are a waste of your energy and brilliance.