Maybe it was when she was at her grandmother’s house, located at the base of the Himalayan mountains, and she noticed the little girls working in the fields or helping their mothers in the kitchen, while the boys were off at school learning to read and write. Maybe it was when she was listening to her grandma, who raised five girls, as she told her how people used to say she was raising her children for their future husbands. Or maybe it was when she was seventeen, washing dishes with her parents in her own home, when she raised her voice and was told by her parents that “girls shouldn’t talk like that.” It could’ve been any single one of these things or a combination of all of them, but it’s been a few years since Business Administration sophomore Arushi Dogra realized she didn’t fully believe in the societal norms and values she’d grown up with.
Growing up in America with a younger sister, she was fortunate enough not to have to worry about whether or not she would be allowed to pursue higher education. But she couldn’t say the same about her female relatives back in India. Galvanized by the injustices Indian women face and some of the constraints of the culture in her own home, Dogra set a personal goal to build a school in India to give young girls the opportunities she felt she was fortunate enough to have grown up with. On Jan. 13, the Wire had the opportunity to sit down with Dogra and discuss her project.
AM: Where did this idea come from?
AD: Growing up, education was really important in my family. I grew up in Fremont, CA, which has a big Asian culture, and that seeped into our education; everything was engineering and math and science, and people who weren’t good at those subjects were being pushed down. My strengths aren’t in the math and sciences; I was always into reading and writing. What I noticed in my own culture was that the louder I was, the more backlash I got. I found that […] there’s still this need [in the Asian culture] to control our little girls and tell them that, ”Yeah you can get an education, but that’s only to make you a more eligible wife.”
[The school] stemmed from this idea that education is empowerment. If we can empower our little girls and tell them from day one when they walk in at four, five years old that they’re worthy of an education, then they can make their voices heard and change the inherent sexism in India. Teach them how to dream, dream big, and dream realistically, and giving them encouragement and enthusiasm for liberal arts, especially for things like sociology, politics, law, government jobs, and even business. They can [then] start to change some of the laws and expectations of society because they’ll have power in their hands.
AM: What would your school look like?
AD: It would be a comprehensive K-12 school. Definitely big. I want them to have lots of resources to explore and discover. Emphasizing art classes when they’re younger and taking those skills and integrating them into the classroom as they start to get older. They would also have rigorous classes in math and science as well, [but] decreasing the pressure that comes with exams and showing them that there’s more than just good grades. But really [give] them opportunities, almost mimicking what college has been like for me, with guest speakers, workshops and activities that you don’t really get in any traditional elementary school setting. I would love to do a peer mentoring program, having the older girls help the younger girls. Do things like field trips. Taking them to Delhi, [for example], and showing them the big buildings or the government capital and telling them, “Look, this is where you could work someday.” Just showing them how tangible and how achievable their dreams are, and teaching them how to channel who they are and apply that to something they love doing.
AM: What’s one goal you have for your school?
AD: The government [in India] is very dominantly male. We had Indira Ghandi, but she’s an exception, and we need to stop having exceptions. It should be the norm. So we get these girls in the equivalent of U.S. supreme court justices and now we have a female’s perspective, and she’s in there making decisions on landmark cases that set precedent for future cases. Or we have a female politician who is out there pushing for education, equality and outlawing dowries. Someone who’s really faced these struggles. Because at the end of the day, men just don’t get it, and we can’t blame them for that.
AM: Why do you believe it’s your responsibility to help women in other parts of the world to overcome the oppression they face?
AD: Even though there’s so many issues in America, the glass ceiling in the corporate world for example, we have the opportunities, we have the resources, we have time. And if you have the passion, if you have the energy to help someone else out, why not? When I see little girls who have to walk miles and miles to go to school, it’s just not fair. We look at Malala, who got shot in the head for wanting to get an education, and we never have to walk these streets in the fear that someone would want to hurt us for wanting an education. So I think to take what we have, and give it to others, would be the most gratifying feeling.
*The above has been lightly edited for style & clarity
Dogra is currently planning to follow a career in marketing, but hopes to keep the school as a project on the side. She’s always looking for any opportunity to learn, to network, and to put her idea out there. We at the WIB Wire are excited share Dogra’s story as an example of an exemplary member of Cal Poly Women in Business, and look forward to following her project as it continues to grow.
*Photo used with permission of Max Morais