Month: September 2014

Defined by Definers

Every week, I am in charge of the MOSAIC E-Digest, and as a “personal” touch, I try to embed a quote that relates to social justice or that comments on the current system of how society runs.  This week, one of my colleagues helped me find a quote , which was:

“Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.” – Toni Morrison

When I read this quote, I was immediately placed into my thinking mode where I was trying to deconstruct it and find the meaning of this simple, yet powerful statement.  One thing that has really stood out for me during my stay in MOSAIC is that whenever a conversation leads to more of a debate, I’ve learned that personal definitions of a term, is one of the most important premise on which their argument is made.  “What do you mean by that?” or “How do you define _____” is a very common question that can be heard in these conversations.  And they are good questions to ask too.  Not everyone has the same definitions of things and it’s better to declare those differences before engaging in a discussion where many conflicting view points may be present.

To me, this statement means that everything we experience is to each their own, and the meaning changes depending on the person’s experience with that concept, idea, or a thing.  It reminds us the way we conceive the world around us differs from person to person.  Factors such as the individual’s upbringing, economical status, and personality clashes all together that affect how we formulate the meaning of our past, present, and future.  In a sense, each person has the ability and the power to define what is in front of them, and any interpretation is correct because their own experience is used to justify the meaning.  In these times, it’s really important to keep in mind that individuals all have different perceptions and it’s acceptable to disagree.




goldfish jumping out of the water

As a graduating senior I have begun the process of preparing for graduate school. This includes a writing sample, personal statement, statement of purpose and last but certainly not least, the General Record Exam popularly known as the GRE.

I consider myself to be a bright and intelligent woman. However, the GRE test prep has proven to be difficult. There is an expectation to know math from 7th-10th grade along with vocabulary that most people do not use on a regular basis. The composition of the GRE is a written essay, a verbal multiple choice section and a multiple choice section of math. I am expected to know things that I do not use in my everyday life to help determine if I am good enough for the graduate programs I am applying too.

What is graduate school measuring with the GRE scores? Does the GRE give advantages to some groups over others? If students are never introduced to the vocabulary that is on the GRE how are they expected to learn what seems like the entire Webster’s Dictionary for the test? If students spend their time and money taking courses in college then why is a test required that is only measuring 7th-10th grade level understanding? If students have to take extensive writing courses why are they tested on writing? Not to mention some students had to take the SAT or the ACT to get into undergraduate school so why are we being tested again?

According to the National Science Foundation, the University of Florida, and Texas A&M University shows the GRE under predicts the success of minority students in addition to the success of women 25 and older which according to the study is over half of female test takers.

An ETS report, The Role of GRE General and Subject Test Scores In Graduate Program Admission states that 27% percent of schools that require the GRE reported that they use a cutoff. Fifty percent of graduate departments requiring GREs reported using General Test scores to determine fellowship award.

Finally, a study by the Minority Graduate Education Project found that pre-admissions measure of academic skills or the GRE had no correlation to the success of the students that are admitted into graduate school.

Even with all of this information, after I finish this blog, I will return to my test help practice books hoping that I get a high enough score to get into my PhD programs of choice and hopefully with enough funding so that Sallie Mae and I (student loan debt) can end our relationship.




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I grew up on the edge of San Jose and I went to high school at Cupertino. The school was approximately 60% Asian (this includes Indians, Russians, etc). I felt completely left out from all activities. I felt as if I actually needed to be Asian to be accepted. It was the Asians who ran the rallies, who were on Student Government. And so, ironically, I ended up bonding the most with a group of people who aren’t usually considered the minority in this country: white people. All my life my closest friends have been white. In my work with Mosaic, we talk a lot about the unearned privileges that white people have. Sometimes I am filled with a great deal of resentment when I think of these privileges. In preparation for this internship, we were required to read an essay about white privilege by Peggy McIntosh. In it, she lists forty six privileges that she has as a white woman that people of color don’t have. For example, she can virtually guarantee that her child’s teacher will have the same skin color as her. She can guarantee that she won’t be called upon to speak up for her race simply because she’s the only one in the room of that skin color. There were forty four more like this.

Reading that list made me realize for the first time that I didn’t have any of these luxuries (they are, in fact, luxuries). I never thought of myself as some sort of quantifiable privileged or unprivileged person before this. But I began to count my privileges, and I had realized that I had very few.  Or so I thought I did.

Again, my work with Mosaic has made me realize so much. First and foremost, I am privileged in many many ways. I have had the luxury of growing up in the Silicon Valley. I have the luxury of staying at home, being cooked for, being laundered for. I have the privilege of belonging to the upper middle class. I have the privilege of being a cisgender heterosexual girl. I have the privilege of being sheltered. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit, my life has been relatively, uneventfully, good. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have any predicaments, but it’s not as if I have been criminalized or severely discriminated against; I can count the number of times I’ve been called a terrorist on one hand. All my teachers have been white, all my friends have been white, and they were the ones who taught me that I have nothing to worry about, that I have a bright future ahead of me. Now I’m beginning to see that the reason why they told me these types of consolations was not only because they are kind people, but because they had the privilege of thinking so positively. They never had to worry about turning on the television to see people who look like them, they never had to see a father come home, worried about losing his job, for reasons that may or may not be related to skin color. Regardless, I know now that they have a different perspective than me. One that I can never truly understand, because of the aforementioned privileges that I don’t have.

I don’t recall any specific moment that made me feel less; maybe it’s a culmination of quieter, more subtle moments. As I am writing this I am trying to think of particular incidents that made me realize that I was considered less than people in this country, but I can’t think of any. I think it’s more of the fact that I never saw myself on bill boards, movies, commercials, and literature. I never saw myself anywhere other than the mirror I looked at every morning before I went to school. So how can I think that I’m not alone in my plight? How can I not begin to feel resentment for those who do see themselves reflected back at them elsewhere?

These are the sentiments that I am trying to reconcile with my relationships with my friends. A white person did not choose their whiteness in the same way that I did not choose my color. These are the words that I constantly tell myself when I find that I am trying to communicate a complicated sentiment to my white friends. Most of the time they are understanding and caring, and I am reminded again of how they were the ones who made me who I am today. I don’t want to hold anything against them because of their skin color. If I do, then I will be projecting on to them the same narrow-mindedness that has been projected on to my father, my mother, and countless others who now feel like less for reasons beyond their own control. That is the conclusion that I have come to: that all I can do is continue to be kind, respectful, unassuming, and caring. Privilege or not,

I am in charge of very little in this world, but that’s what I choose to control.


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Impersonal Assimilation and Personal Loss

In my Social Problems class, we read and discussed a piece titled “La Raza Cosmica,” written by a journalist named Richard Rodriguez. In this piece, Rodriguez discusses the reality of the Mexican immigrant into America, the experience of changing one’s personal culture and values, assimilation into a white-American sense of self, and embracing however one feels about themselves.

Rodriguez explains how growing up in America, he has never felt internal connection to Mexican culture. He is constantly criticized for his lack of Spanish fluency, his internal ideals, and lack of understanding of his family’s heritage and history.

“When I go to Mexico, even the waitress lets me know with her voice that I displease her because I don’t speak Spanish well. I have betrayed Mother Mexico; I have betrayed memory.”

However, Rodriguez doesn’t feel that these things are necessary for his personal self. He explains that he defines his own culture that isn’t related to his Mexican background.

“My detractors seem to think I somehow ‘left my culture’ at the Greyhound bus station; I forgot it somewhere. I lost it as though it were something independent of me. But one doesn’t lose one’s culture. I am my culture. Lucille Ball is my culture. And Walt Disney is my culture. A California freeway is my culture.”

He further explains that immigrant parents should not persist on teaching children their culture, or tell them to fear losing it; rather, to define their own culture for themselves.

This piece struck many chords with me – it is extremely relevant to my childhood battles with my culture.

As a queer, first-generation Pakistani-American Muslim Agnostic Atheist, I grew up with an intersection of identities. At home, I was taught to “be better” than everyone else at school, that “my religion” put me above everyone else. Yet, I do not fluently speak my parents’ native language, which is Urdu. I am also queer, which ultimately outcasts me from the general community as well. I felt incredibly isolated and disconnected with my family’s culture and religion – I felt I was too liberal, too progressive; too different.

At the same time, in school I was taught to be American – to speak English, to listen to American music, to value American ideals. I felt that being American was more valuable, more accepting – yet I also felt a sense of disconnect here as well. I was too brown, too Muslim; too different.

In a way, I relate a lot to how Rodriguez feels. I understand what it’s like to feel pressured to live up to expectations that you somehow feel do not reflect who you are personally. I know how it is to feel outcasted, to feel like wanting to escape the boxes that society put you in.

What I didn’t realize as a child is that this process of assimilation is actually very damaging to a person’s self – when you lose your history, your background, your heritage, you become influenced by the standards of being set by white people, by white supremacy.

White supremacy has taught us to “get over” colonialism, imperialism, apartheid and genocide; to “get over” the mass killings and rapings of land, people, communities, histories, and culture committed by white European parties. White supremacy has taught us to value American standards over our “backwards” immigrant families’ culture.

I believe understanding our heritage, our ethnic backgrounds, and our histories are so immensely important to retaining the small identity that we have left, because of white supremacy. If we do not even have these things, we become nothing but assimilated by the white man.

At the same time, many of us in the American diaspora feel disconnected due to the outcasting from our immigrant communities. As a queer person, I feel that the Muslim Pakistani community wants nothing to do with me. As if being queer is only an “American thing.” They, too, have been affected by assimilation.

I believe mutual understanding and solidarity is so necessary in feeling at home with our ethnic communities. If we do not understand each other, we start to hate one another. For so long, I resisted communicating with other South Asian people because I believed they were all “backwards;” what I realize now is that I was influenced by white ideals of being.

I don’t want to assimilate anymore. I don’t want to be rejected anymore. I want to find balance in my background as well as present. I want to be proud of all that I am, not what others tell me to be. I want to be complete.


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API Complacent in Social Justice

In November 2013, the San Jose Mercury News released information about a serious hate crime against a black frosh student that occurred in his eight person suite perpetuated by four white students. Students were outraged by the news and took action with rallies, protests, hosting speakers, and school board task force meetings in order to tackle the issue of race and diversity on our campus.

I recall that semester when the news of the incident broke out; I was mortified. I knew our campus wasn’t perfect, and that racism was still very much an issue in our society; yet, I could not believe a crime this extreme could happen so close to home. San Jose State University has been a place of safety for me – a space that I felt was at least open to students of color, and had tolerance for different racial groups. I could have never expected a crime like this to occur on my campus, and it questioned my sense of safety and security in this university.

A few weeks after the news broke out, I attended a discussion meeting hosted by an API (Asian and Pacific Islander) student organization that facilitated a conversation about people’s feelings toward the incident. To my surprise, many of the students shared feelings of disconnect, of uninterest. I heard one person say, “I don’t connect with this issue. It doesn’t really relate to me.”

I was very surprised by this reaction – how could anyone not see the grave injustice of this incident? How could anyone not care about this? It didn’t make sense to me.

After the incident, many students gathered in solidarity for a rally called Black Thursday.=’t make sense to me.

API Americans have historically lived under the socialized culture of the Model Minority complex, which Wikipedia defines as a minority group whose members are most often perceived to achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. This success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.

Societal norms continuously perpetuate the stereotypes of Asian Americans, and South Asian Americans – that we’re good at math, we’re hardworking, we become engineers and doctors.

The notions that aren’t discussed in this, however, is how it can silence not only issues within the API community but create difference between API people and other communities. The idea perpetuated behind this is that API people have supposedly surpassed racial disparities, and that social issues of poverty, health, and more don’t exist in API communities (newsflash – they do).

Furthermore, this tells people that other communities, such as black and Latinx* communities, are told to work harder like us APIs. That if they just try hard enough, that they can be as good as we are. This promotes sociological norms such as Anti-blackness in a lot of API communities.

Essentially, the white man is telling us to stay silent, and we’ll give you what you want.

However, society fails to discuss the economic and social disparities in the API community, that are similar to those perpetuated in black and Latinx communities. API people who are influenced into the Model Minority complex want to be compared to the standard of success; the standard set by white people.

As a result, API Americans have historically distanced themselves from other people of color. This makes them content to social injustice, and resistant to act for change. API Americans are continuously complacent in matters of social justice, and I believe this is a result of white supremacy that influences people down the line.

API Americans need to stop sitting around and allowing things to happen. We need to stop normalizing violence and injustice not only in our communities, but also other communities of color. Solidarity is necessary and important in reaching social change.


*Latinx is spelled as such so as not to me either male or female centric (ie, not Latino or Latina)

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Book Banning

There are a lot of books out there.  Ever since the beginning of civilization, expression of oneself through language has existed whether it being in a form of pictures, signs, or markings.  Being a Diversity Advocate Intern taught me that one of the best ways to learn about unfamiliar cultures is to dive into the world of literature and books where I can read the stories of oppression and the societal systems in which the subordinate groups are trapped in. I enjoy reading autobiographical pieces more because often, the writer depicts raw and intense events of his or her life that they experienced firsthand.  And for a person like me who still needs to be educated in many areas that is all I can ask for.  But as I submerged myself in books that vividly portrayed and explored lines of oppression and barriers within communities, I’ve noticed that some of these books are banned from schools across the nation.

I have some knowledge of the books that were banned, but I decided to do a little bit of research and figure out how this act of book burning may be detrimental to our society.

The Harry Potter series and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings are two of the title that automatically pops up when I think of book burning.  Harry Potter is often banned by religious affiliation groups, who think the story of a young wizard and his magical world might hinder the traditional practices of the religion and because their justification is magic is bad, thus one must not engage in the stories.  Being raised in a Christian background, I was told the same thing by, not my parents, but by my conservative relatives who restricted any contact with the books or the movies.  In states like Kansas, the book is banned to the  “vulgar language, sexual explicitness, and violent imagery that is gratuitously employed.”

The practice of banning book as been a way of “protecting” potential readers of being exposed to another unknown world.  But the dangers of not being able to read these works of literature may be even more harmful.  When I think of this topic, I am reminded of a Ted talk by Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist, who shared her idea of how a “single story” that describes a specific group of people may send the rest of the society the wrong idea of how the life of certain demographic may look like.  In her talk, she explains that when we hear a story of an individual from a place we are not familiar about, we tend to have an idea that all individuals from that walk of life shares the exact same experience or fate.  To Adichie, that is dangerous because a single story does not justify the lives of others and it builds ignorance.

I think this notion is relevant to the practices of book banning or burning because by eliminating books, those who seek knowledge are turned down, those were going to have an initial chance of exploring the other culture are now restricted, and as a whole, the prohibition of books means we have lost a great deal opportunity to challenge our views about the world we live in.  Yes, some of these pieces of literature may make us uncomfortable to a point where we may feel necessary to put the book down and move on to something else, but in order to see things as they are and to fully understand the reasons behind the reality, there needs to be a time of vulnerability, where our only option is to listen, to interact, and sympathize with the experience(s) we are reading about.

The Ted talk of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can be found here:


Pulling out the Race Card

All my life I’ve been raised to appreciate that “living in America and getting a first rate education” is a luxury that many around the world would kill for. When I would go on road trips with my family, or car rides to Half Moon Bay, Monterrey, etc, I would prefer to listen to music or read a book instead of look out the window and see the “beauty that many around the world would kill for only a second of.”

These were the words that were said to me (scolded, yelled, etc) whenever I complained. Recently my dad and I went to pick up my new phone from Verizon and on the way there my dad started telling me the same affirmations. I was not feeling my best: I was having a relatively major acne breakout, my hair was in a frizzy bun, I was in skinny capris and a flannel that needed to be laundered and loafers that looked like they came from the graveyard. But this time when my dad said to me, “You have so much, you live in America, you are a pretty girl, you are going to university in an American school, and you’re smart,” it hit me: in a way he was right. I was so lucky to be in America. To have traffic lanes, sidewalks, and people who didn’t judge. I had a preponderance of luxuries that I had failed to see in my attempt to succeed in America. Around the world, just living in America is considered a form of success.

When I visited Egypt the summer of 2013, I was shocked by the level of destitute living conditions surrounding my relatives’ apartments. The amount of polluted fog, the heat, the judgement. I hated all of these things while I was there but now that a year has transpired, I miss Egypt. I miss the familial quality I received from everyone, even from people I only saw once: the barber, the clerk, the postman. Everyone was so incredibly loving that I was literally sick and tired of it by the time I left. Regardless of these positive attributes, I still remember the fog, the smell of gasoline and dust all mixed together. In fact, that is how I remember Egypt. If I smell something on my way to class, work, home, school, etc that reminds me of Egypt, my first thought is, That smells like Egypt. 

So when my dad reminded me of my good fortune, my first thought was the fog, the crowds, the noise, and I looked around me, here in San Jose, California, and I saw none of that. Instead I saw organized street lanes, I saw quite streets, I saw clear air and I realized, for the first time in my life, how truly blessed I was. Not in any cliche way, either. I understood that this position I was in was not to be taken lightly. Being in America is no joke. I am not here for no reason. Many people would kill for this opportunity, as my dad would say.

But it’s not that simple. My work here at MOSAIC has made me realize, over and over again, how difficult success in this country really is. As someone emerging from an immigrant family, success in America is the beacon of light. But through my research with this job I’ve begun to realize how much power dynamics, racism, and systematic oppression play into this pursuit. I am a Muslim, small, colored, Arab, girl. I’ve been dealt a very difficult hand.

But on the other hand, when I look at my dad, who is a very dark Arab Muslim from southern Egypt, and I see the amount of success he’s achieved and I know that it’s not all race. One can transcend his or her circumstances. The extent of this transcendence is obviously very dependent on the situation of the individual. I happen to be a very sheltered Muslim girl, so I do not know how far hard work and hard dreaming will take me.

So to what extent does race play into my experience in post 9/11 America? Probably a large extent. But can I play that race card every time I feel that life is not going my way? Or should I try to surpass all expectations like my father? When I was in high school, I was in art class for four years with this one guy who, my senior year, when I told him that I wished I could be white, told me to shut up. He said that if I truly wanted to make something happen then I would go and do it. This guy was white, he was the quarterback of the varsity football team, he was popular, and he was from a relatively affluent family. He got dealt the right hand.

Over the past two years I’ve reflected on this moment pretty consistently, because several times I have been through experiences that have brought this specific memory to the forefront of my mind. Is he right? Is he wrong? I don’t know. On one hand I think race is completely ubiquitous and it influences and effects every aspect of our lives. On the other hand, I think that if I get too caught up thinking about these labels, then I will never achieve that dream of success. So to what extent am going to let race play a part in my life?

This is now my question. This duality of my experience as an immigrant in America has effected every corner of my life. But I can control that duality. I can find a place on which to stand on this seemingly infinite spectrum that is comfortable for me, and only me. And in my eyes, this has nothing to do with race.

Can I Enjoy My Minority Status?

I work in the Mosaic Cross Cultural Center as a Diversity Advocate Intern. Part of my job is to be able to advocate for social justice and shed light on things that may be prejudice, racist, discriminatory so on and so forth.

As a Black woman living in the Silicon Valley my blackness has been put on the forefront ever since I arrived in August 2013. Now working in the social justice space another part of our job is writing blogs on things that we find interesting that address power dynamics, racism, the gender binary and other things.

I am physically, emotionally, and mentally drained from having to constantly talk about my minority status, the implications of being a minority and how I am set up to fail according to society’s standards. I am all thought out to the point where I am about to plagiarize myself.

At what point do people of color get a break from talking about the things that discriminate against them? At what point does social justice take a back seat so that one can enjoy their minority status, whatever that may be.

The expectation of people of color to always be the representative of the struggle is taxing. As a person of color I would love to have a moment where I can find peace and enjoy being black, enjoy being a woman, enjoy being middle-low income and not think about how that negatively affects me.


Generation Y

Can’t communicate well, narcissistic, addicts of technology. Disappointments.  That is primarily the description I get when the subject of Generation Y comes up in conversations.

How do I feel about this?

Before exploring this statement, we must first define what Generation Y is.  This generation of individuals are also known as the Millennials and are categorized as people who were born from early 1980’s to the early 2000’s.  Individuals of this generation grew up with an idea that with hard work and perseverance, they can achieve all their dreams in all areas of life. Compared to the past generations, Generation Y individuals tend to value individualism vs. group effort, liberal worldviews instead of conservative, and fulfillment of their ideal goals over security and consistency.  One additional aspect of being a Gen Y is that we grew up with technology advancement; this changed how we communicate and it is probably because of this fact that other age groups tend to label us for our lack of communication.

While researching this topic, there were many articles that I stumbled on and most of them were about how Gen Y people tend to live in their own surreal world with unrealistic dreams and nonsense.  Some articles talked about the dangers of hiring Gen Y’s in the workplace and how to deal with them.  A few articles highlighted the causes of how and why these stereotypes were formed, followed by why they are true.  And most articles had research to conveniently prove their analysis.

So how do I feel about this?

I can only speak from my life experience and the day to day living with my peers.  First of all, I must admit that some of these statements are true.  For one, individualism or the act of differentiating oneself is a very prominent feature in my peers and myself.  Why is that?  While one may argue that the cause of this is due to our upbringing of I-can-achieve-anything attitude, do notice that the world’s population has skyrocketed and the competition for education, jobs, and resources has increased. So the way I see it is with the upbringing of a self-reassuring attitude and the realities of the world, the only thing we see is for us to make ourselves stand out or being one of a kind.

Another big argument that I consistently hear is the idea that we do not know how to communicate and have meaningful relationships because Gen Y grew up with advances in technology, media, and advertisements.  Yes, if there was a huge problem that I see in my peers and at times myself is that we are glued to our cell phones, computer screen, flat screen T.Vs, etc.  The list goes on and on.  But regarding this issue of becoming addicts of technology, I truly believe that slowly but surely, we are recognizing the impact that devices have on our social lives.

In a larger context, if there was just one problem I have with this Gen Y generalization, it is the fact this IS a generalization, that covers more than 50% of the world’s current population.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that every human being has their own personal story and unique experiences.  In a social justice standpoint, categorizing an entire generation of individuals as these labels destroys, disencourages, and prevents individuals from being aware of themselves and allows them to start labeling each others.  Societal labels are detrimental because they eliminate a chance or an opportunity of interaction, which is the reason why there’s still racial wars being fought, tension between extremist groups, and overall misunderstandings of cultures that may seem foreign to us.



My Boobs, Her Boobs… Whose Boobs are Normal?

My roommate and I were hanging out in the living room when she started adjusting her implants. I have never seen anybody adjust implants before and it really caught be off guard. I must have been staring really hard because she said “would you like to see” I said “yes” and she opened up her shirt. Now I should have been looking at her boobs but I got so distracted by her areolas, the darker skin surrounding the nipple in a circular fashion.
Her boobs and areolas look nothing like mine. They were tiny, like the size of a penny, and a peachy pink color. Mine are the size of two half dollar coins put together and dark brown in color. I haven’t seen many boobs but the difference between her boobs and my boobs was so drastic I was mind blown. Is mine normal? Is hers normal? For some reason it never occurred to me that both of us could be normal. I began questioning if there was something wrong with my boobs and it prompted me to take a trip to the health center just to ask general questions about boobs.
The appointment involved a breast cancer examination which took less than 10 minutes however, I was instructed it is best to get the examination a week after a woman’s menstrual cycle because it allows the glands and other things to get back to normal.
Areolas vary in size but typically range from the size of a half dollar coin to half the size of your boob. The color tends to be darker than ones skin tone, often times much darker. My areolas are darker than the rest of my body and it always made me a little insecure. Some women have hair and or bumps around their areolas and nipples. A couple of facts I learned were that areolas tend to be darker than the boob and some of them have hair and some of them have little bumps around them. The doctor told me that I have nothing to worry about because my boobs are perfectly normal.
The media portrayals of women are often different than how the average woman looks. With all the makeup, the retouching, and photo shopping it is hard for women to know to what is and isn’t normal. I know my boobs don’t look like any of the girls in Hustler magazine, Playboy or any of the music videos. Women’s body are often under intense scrutiny to be perfect but what is perfect? To know what is perfect one must know what is “normal” and I learned that although my boobs may not look like another woman’s boobs, I am still normal.
As women, society puts a lot of pressure on us to be perfect and often times perfection is unattainable. If you are in search of other women to talk to I recommend the Women’s Resource Center in MOD B. They can give you information on the Womyn of Color group. Also, I recommend making an appointment with your health care provider or if you don’t have insurance you can make an appointment at the Student Health Center to find answers to all the questions you may have.