When I was in eighth grade my teacher had us write down our goals for high school. My number one goal was to get accepted to the University of Michigan. I was unsure why I wanted to attend the institution so bad. Nobody in my immediate family had attended and I actually knew very little about it. What I did know was that in books I read it seemed everyone wanted to attend that school, and so I wrote “Attend University of Michigan” at the top of my list.
When I started high school I looked into the University of my dreams. It appeared most people that wrote blogs about their acceptance had been valedictorian or class president. They had done some really amazing thing that made them stand out to go to the institution. I made this understanding my focal point, working extremely hard to set myself up for acceptance. Around my junior year, I mentioned over dinner that I would be applying to attend UM. My father casually mentioned that it was close enough to drive to. He thought I had been talking about UM, Dearborn. I quickly corrected him, explaining that my intent was to go move to Ann Arbor. He said very little other than “No you are not”.
In my head, this “no” was not something I would worry about. I would continue to work. I would get accepted. I would move away and chase my dreams. As senior year approached I worked hard on my applications. The only institution I applied to at first was UM. In my head I had a game plan: only apply to Michigan so there was no other option and nobody could tell me no. When I got accepted I was sitting at a nail salon and I opened the email. I read it and I called my mom. “I am going to Michigan.” There was never another conversation about it. My dad knew now, after years of explaining, how great this opportunity was. Despite his fears, being an immigrant and not understanding this new place I would call home, I had him convinced that it would change my life to go, and it did.
However, when I went to school the week of acceptances, many girls had different experiences. I remember a girl in chemistry class saying, “my brother won’t let me go.” To this day I still get sick thinking about that comment. At the root of the issue, I understand the fear and the protection. I understand fathers worrying about sending their daughters away to a place with little culture, little religion, and little oversight. What I do not understand however is denying the women of our community the right to choose.
There is something extremely wrong about men denying women to go away to school. First, it strips a woman of her agency and independence. This further subjugates women to an inferior status in society because it takes away one’s right to make their own decisions. The ability for a man to decide a woman’s education is a microcosm of men making decisions for women. When a woman is raped by a man, it is male dominance that removes the woman’s say from the situation. What makes this any different?
I do not mean to say that every girl has to go away to school. I do not mean to say that the only option for going away to school is UofM, Ann Arbor. What I am saying is that it is unfair, sexist, and a complete double standard for the brothers of our community to have the authority to tell their sisters they cannot move away to school (especially when men are never questioned for wanting to do so). When we deny women the opportunity to go away to school, what are we truly denying them off? We are denying them of a new perspective, a new opportunity, and a new life lense. We are denying them of maximizing their potential.
Everyone always asks me if moving away to school changed me, and I believe it wholeheartedly did. Being in Dearborn is safe. My identity is the majority. People look like me and talk like me. Moving away challenged me. It brought me closer to my culture and my religion because every day I had to fight to remember who I was. I competed in national fellowships, studied abroad, ran to be the Student Body Vice President. These opportunities are simply not present in our small town.
Dearborn will always be the place I call home. With everything I do, I will always keep that with me and work hard to bring my successes back to benefit my community. Moving away to school did not take my home from me, it made me better situated to serve my home. Our roots will always be our roots and my character is defined by my upbringing. However, the access of opportunity when leaving home is the reason we cannot keep denying our women what they have worked for.
Education and the right to choose one’s path should not be something people can restrict for us. Our parents migrated to this country on the very premise of a better life. Let the women of our community find their version of that better life. When men (especially brothers) are telling their sisters what to do, we need to call that out. We need to challenge the normalization of the right to choose and to empower women to use their potential to continue to change the world. Our voices were not given to us to have them minimized and our dreams were not formulated to have them stripped from us. We work hard to obtain the things we have worked for and men need to stop denying us that.
From Dearborn Blog:
Nadine Jawad in the News: