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Women of Courage Undaunted: A gala for nasty women, by nasty women

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Women's Gala

Dr. Sutapa Basu, the Executive Director for the UW Women's Center, poses with the honorees of the night.

Saturday, April 1, I experienced the overwhelming power of immersing myself in a room filled with dauntless women and men who followed one strong goal: creating and advancing a more compassionate and inclusive society for women.

This materialized in the form of an annual gala, “2017 Women of Courage: Undaunted.” Ten tenacious women were honored for contributions in their fields and a man of integrity was recognized for his work in the advancement of gender equity and entrepreneurship. We all met at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel for a silent auction that raised over $125,000 to support the UW Women’s Center, the organizer of the event. The main event allowed the opportunity to meet people passionate about human rights and the empowerment of girls and women. 

As a young woman and student seeking guidance within the university to unfold my potential at the UW, I also was transformed by the positive energy and overall love that radiated from every participant, making me feel part of what the Women’s Center calls “The Village,” where the famous Nigerian proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” is put into practice.      

The UW Women’s Center has been fighting for over a century to promote gender equity and social justice by offering educational programs to students seeking resources to achieve their personal and educational goals. Sutapa Basu, executive director of the Women’s Center and co-chair of its Task Force Against Human Trafficking, opened the event with a reflection of her own journey as a woman leader in the world of education.

Referring to the current national policy against immigration, she acknowledged how lucky she was that her parents back in India decided to bring her and her brothers to good schools, unlike many other families around her country and the world.

However, Basu possesses something many girls and women born to immigrant families and coming from different marginalized backgrounds might never achieve unless they reach centers like this one: An active voice in our society that can contribute to changing equity paradigms.

Among the 10 honorees who were nominated was Katie Collier, a senior at the UW majoring in Early Childhood and Family Studies who has also been part of the Washington women’s basketball team for the past four years.

Collier fought leukemia before entering the university, and after winning the battle against cancer she helped guide her team toward its first NCAA Final Four. She has given speeches on behalf of Seattle Children’s Hospital and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“I am loving this event,” Collier said. “ I am surrounded by such powerful energy and the women here are so strong; each connection that I’m making is meaningful. What I would hope that students learn from this organization is that the Women’s Center is an enormous resource: One person here is capable of inspiring a bigger group, and ultimately a community.”

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Introducing students with life-changing mentors seemed to be the constant that the center has brought to many people.

Oz Sener, an international student adviser at the University of Washington-Bothell,  participated in one of the Women’s Center’s leadership programs this past summer. As an immigrant from Turkey in our current political climate, she described the mentorship of the program as life-changing. 

Mentorship was similarly crucial for Manahil Siddiqi, a Ph. D student at the department of global health. Siddiqi was awarded the Judith M. Runstad Scholarship for her achievements in a field widely dominated by men.

“It’s wonderful to network with so many women who are leaders in their fields because it’s great that we want to help each other succeed,” Siddiqi said. “I want to continue being a leader in my field, and as an immigrant from Pakistan, this puts me in a position of power. I really want to create an avenue of support for other women and mentor and inspire them just like the women guiding me right now.” 

Perhaps this will be the road for Mahilet Mesfin, an enthusiastic high school senior who has just been accepted to the UW and who participates in the Making Connections college-readiness program at the Women’s Center.

“We basically go out and try to figure out ourselves,” Mesfin said. “If it wasn’t for this program, I know I wouldn’t be in this same spot. Not only do they help you with workshops and opportunities, they make you feel part of a big community. I am surrounded by very talented people; once you’re in this environment you’re automatically motivated.”

A daughter of Ethiopian parents, Mesfin will be majoring in law, societies & justice.  

After attending this event, I personally feel more empowered and motivated to find such mentorship. I felt strength in the sisterhood camaraderie after spending three hours with such individuals. Imagine how you could feel if you visit the Women’s Center yourself.

Reach writer Clàudia Esplugas Masvidal at development@daily.com. Twitter: @ClaudiaEsplugas

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