The Women Who Inspired Them

Four Tufts undergrads talk about who made the most impact on them—and what they are hoping to do
Joy Main at looking at photo of Danai Gurira
Joy Maina, A21 and Danai Gurira. Student Photo: Anna Miller; Danai Gurira Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
March 19, 2019

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March is Women’s History Month, and to mark that occasion, we asked four undergraduates what woman they have been most inspired by, and what they hope to do that will inspire other women in the future.

Joy Maina, A21 

Danai Gurira inspires me. A Zimbabwean native, she chose to write stories that are common but are not often known. The care and complexity that she gives to characters of African descent is necessary in the world of film and theater. Her art is greatly influenced by the war zones that we go through every day, all over the world.

Her play In the Continuum resonated with me immensely. It inspired me to not feel like I have to choose between my Kenyan and American identities, but to relish in the joy of duality. She has created space for young actors of color to explore their identities and create spaces that reflect the material implications of capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism.

I hope to tell stories that resonate with black girls in the Bay Area and in my hometown of Nairobi, Kenya. I hope to inspire them to pick up a pencil and write and create. Oftentimes our stories go untold, subject to ideas of tokenization and are ripped of personhood. I hope that my stories—and stories that I help tell with other black women—take the power of language and return it to the people it has been used against. I want to learn the rules, so I can begin to break them. I hope that women of the future can look back and realize that the “master’s tools” are not all that, but the tools that we create by breaking them are where the true magic is.

Brett Isaacs, A19

Brett Isaacs, A19 and Eleanor Roosevelt. Student photo: Anna Miller; Eleanor Roosevelt Photo: Library of CongressThe woman who inspires me most in history is Eleanor Roosevelt, a pioneer of reform who dedicated her entire life to public service. She was a powerful and influential First Lady who pushed her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to always do more for the American people and made a lifelong commitment to fight for social justice.

Many people only remember her as the First Lady, but she was so much more than that, and after FDR’s death in 1945, Eleanor became the first chairperson of the preliminary UN Committee on Human Rights, served as the first American representative to the committee after the publication of the UN Charter of Human Rights, and continued to advocate for advancements in civil rights.

After graduation, I hope to begin a career in public service and help people, especially in underserved communities, through public advocacy. I hope to work for policies and programs that give everyone an equal opportunity to live an exciting and fulfilling life. No matter what, I am always grateful to the women who came before me and fought for the advancement of women everywhere.”

Akbota Saudabayeva, A22 

Akbota Saudabayeva, A22 and Sandra Cisneros. Student photo: Anna Miller; Sandra Cisneros Photo: Keith DannemillerSandra Cisneros definitely reaffirmed my love for reading and writing when I was a young girl. I read House on Mango Street in middle school for English class, and it was with that text that I learned how to use imagery and language to evoke emotion in my own writing. Her handling of prose is so careful and thoughtful that the love she has for her subject comes through the page and grabs your heart. It was really reading that book that I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. 

After university, I plan to enter the professional world of writing, editing, and publishing. Everyone has a story; I believe that as an editor, I would have the responsibility to lift marginalized voices—including those of women—so that they may share their reality with the world. Stories hold a certain power: when you read a novel, you’re absorbed into another person’s world. Stories shape people’s worldviews, and it would be a shame if people missed out on the diversity of existence on this earth. 

Jacqueline Chen, A19

Jacqueline Chen, A19 and Mari Matsuda. Student photo: Anna MillerGrowing up, I did not see many Asian American women represented in K-12 curriculum, and definitely didn’t see them in the media. That’s why I was so excited to study Mari Matsuda’s work when I first came to Tufts. Mari Matsuda inspires me because she was the first Asian American woman to become a tenured law professor in the United States, and is a trailblazer in the field of critical race theory. She helped me delve deeper into issues of race, identity, and affirmative action, and I learned how to think critically about a lot of different issues by reading her work.

I have always been so lucky to have strong women role models in my life, from my family members to upperclassmen who took the time to teach me how to be more confident in myself and my voice. I can only hope that I will be able to pay their kindness forward to other young women I meet throughout my life, because without the mentorship, love, and care I received throughout my college career, I wouldn’t be where I am today.