Where are you from, and why there?
I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but when I was young my parents moved to Burtonsville, Maryland, where I was raised most of my life. Both of my parents were born and raised in Gujarat, India, and come from large families. My father’s family are farmers from a small village. He was the only one in his family to leave the village to attend school in the United States and also raise his family outside of India. My mother grew up in the city in India, and like my father, her family faced hard times financially and struggled.
After getting married, my parents came to the U.S. for their kids (me and my sister) to have access to educational and other opportunities in the U.S. My parents first lived in Chicago, Illinois, where my sister was born, and then they moved to Lowell because both of my parents had family there, and they were able to live with my uncle before finding a place of their own, in Westford. The part I loved about growing up there was that we had so much family around who helped raise me and were almost a daily part of my life. But at the same time, I struggled because of the lack of racial diversity in my neighborhood and school. Moving to Burtonsville was such a better experience because it was so much more racially and ethnically diverse, and I’m so grateful that my parents moved there.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
At the National Women’s Law Center, I work on the intersection of gender-based violence, civil rights, and education law, focusing on the civil rights of students who are sexually harassed. In my work, I also try to focus on students who face intersectional forms of discrimination and whose experiences with sexual harassment are often ignored and not handled effectively, such as girls of color or students with disabilities. Much of my work right now is trying to protect the civil rights of student survivors through litigation and federal/local policy and advocacy.
I’ve always cared about addressing gender-based violence because of my own experiences and the experiences of people in my community who have struggled with violence in the home and faced barriers to getting help. I always keenly felt the injustice, isolation, pain, and powerlessness from growing up in a household with domestic abuse, and the complexities around holding abusers accountable. So as an advocate, it feels empowering to work on these issues and try to change how we address them systemically and individually.
How did you get involved?
I learned how to become involved when I was in high school and my older sister, who was then in college, was volunteering at a local domestic violence shelter and was raising awareness on her campus about sexual violence through the clothesline project. It’s also when I became aware that there was language and advocacy around something I knew so personally, yet never talked about. It was powerful in that I realized that our experience was not unique and that we were not alone.
So when I was in college, I interned at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center and Legal Momentum’s (formerly NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund) Immigrant Women’s Program, where I focused on issues of domestic violence in immigrant communities and was a campus activist advocating for stronger support services for students who were sexually assaulted. After graduating college, I worked as a community educator at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center and worked with adolescents on addressing dating violence and sexual violence. It was then that I decided I wanted to become a lawyer to use the law as a tool of advocacy and change.
What’s the biggest challenge for the issue(s) today?
The Trump Administration’s attacks on Title IX and attempts to weaken civil rights protections for student survivors of gender-based violence. Misrepresentation of the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment, including the #MeToo backlash, by men’s rights advocates and the Trump Administration.
Who are your most frequent allies? Any surprises?
We have a lot of allies and among them are other civil rights and survivor advocacy organizations, state and federal lawmakers, student activists (who have also been leaders in this fight to protect Title IX), mental health professionals, parents, educators, and educational institutions. I have been particularly encouraged by many of the educational institutions that have spoken out against the Trump Administration’s attempts to rollback Title IX protections since these changes would make it harder for schools to have safe and supportive environments.
What drives you?
Fighting injustice. Holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable for the harms they inflict.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
To have fought creatively and thoughtfully against injustice and gender-based discrimination in our schools and everywhere. To have been approachable, inclusive, and effective in my advocacy. To have been open to learning and growing as a leader, including owning my mistakes and knowing my limitations.