Iqra Ahmad speaks at ‘Women on Wednesdays’
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 7, 2012 21:10
On Oct. 3, Student Government President Iqra Ahmad spoke at Women on Wednesdays in the Culp Center.
Ahmad is the first woman of color to be SGA President at East Tennessee State University. She spoke about her childhood, her path to president, and how she hopes to change the way women are perceived in politics and society.
Ahmad was born to Pakistani parents in Queens, N.Y. After moving back to Pakistan as a child, her family struggled with finances and Ahmad spent time living with her grandmother for a year.
Ahmad said her grandmother always told her to act confident, even if she wasn’t necessarily feeling so self-assured. She said, “Once you act confident, you become more confident. People trust you and they listen to you.”
When she was in sixth grade, Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake and Ahmad said that’s when she knew she wanted to go into the healthcare profession.
She was determined to return to the United States where she felt she could have a better education. Her mother applied for a visit visa and with $1,000, Ahmad, her mother and her brother returned to America.
Back in the United States, Ahmad and her family lived in one bedroom in a house shared with nine other males. While she was embarrassed to have friends over after school, now she feels more comfortable sharing her story. She said, “This is who I am and this is what made me who I am today.”
In 10th grade, Ahmad moved to Johnson City. As soon as she turned 16, she found a job working at Smoothie King. She said, “I couldn’t wait until I was 16 and I could get a job and someone couldn’t say ‘I support you [financially], so you’ll do what I say.’”
Ahmad maintained her grades while working and eventually received a full ride to ETSU through the Honor’s College, which she calls, “a blessing.”
She joined the SGA Senate during her freshman year, but said she never had the goal of one day becoming SGA president in mind.
Eventually though, she saw things she wanted to change in the SGA climate and with friends and fellow students behind her, she put her name on the ballot.
The politics of running in a campaign were like nothing she had ever experienced before, Ahmad said. “You hear things and you’re like ‘What? I didn’t even know those things about myself!’”
After her victory in the campaign, Ahmad said she had to adjust to often being the sole female in a room full of white men in suits. This intimidation is something she’d like to change in the culture, saying “Why judge something on appearance?” Or, for that matter, why assume a name belongs to a male in politics? She said she’s even been addressed as “Mr. Ahmad” on letters.
When a friend asked her how she had the guts to run for president, she said, “Why do I need guts to run? Do you think that the guy running needed ‘guts’ to run? If you want to do something, be confident, never feel inferior.”
Ahmad said she feels this disregard for women in the academic world, too. She recalls one day while sitting in a pre-med class, a fellow male student turned to her and said, “Iqra, just go be a nurse. Why don’t you want to be a nurse?” Ahmad laughs and said she responded, “Why do I have to be a nurse? Why don’t you go be a nurse?”
Besides fighting the stereotypes of women in politics, her goal as president is to close the gap between SGA and the student body. She said, “I wanted to take away the idea that SGA is better than everyone. I feel like it should be easy for students to come ask us questions. If I’m ever in my office, you can come in and talk to me.”
To contact Ahmad, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Women on Wednesdays, email Dr. Phyllis Thompson, director of Women’s Studies, at email@example.com.