LATHAM — A local high school senior is doing all she can to bring people together in a highly divisive world.
Shaker High School senior Shriya Iyer, who formed a club called WEquality when she was a sophomore, said that she wanted a medium through which students could discuss mature issues regarding gender inequality.
“WEquality talks about domestic violence, the inequality women face around the world and inequality in the workforce. These are things that men and women aren’t exposed to and aren’t prepared to face in the real world because they are never discussed anywhere else,” Iyer told Spotlight News. “This was only half the reason I started the club. The rest of the credit goes to my English teacher, Mrs. Wade. She is an inspiring feminist who introduced me to many feminist texts, such as ‘The Vindication of the Rights of Women,’ and taught me how to look at life from a feminist perspective.”
While the club focuses on raising awareness about women’s equality, it is inclusive and open to all students. With most of its efforts focused on helping women locally, Iyer’s club organized a winter clothing drive in the fall for Mercy House in Albany, a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence and their children.
Right now, the club has 60 members. The group meets every other Thursday with one meeting typically devoted to thoughtful discussion, and the next offering a thought-provoking activity. During a recent meeting, for example, club members viewed a presentation about women inventors and female entrepreneurs of the past before engaging in a conversation about women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers today. Then, during the next meeting, members shared presentations they had created comparing feminist icons of today, according to Iyer.
For Iyer, the meaning of feminism stems from its most basic definition: equality between the sexes.
“Men and women both have equal capabilities, so why can’t they have equal opportunities? Feminism is just the belief that we get what we deserve, so why is there so much animosity when we raise this issue? Equality will show that society has finally learned to accept and become open-minded,” she said. Her role models include her parents, who she said taught her the importance of hard work. She also credited them with getting WEquality off the ground. Other role models of Iyer include Wade, and Michelle Obama, who Iyer said, “is kind, nurturing, open-minded, and strong, and she shows a different take on leadership, being a woman of the people.”
She also takes care to find the best parts of people, which is part of encouraging and accepting diversity.
“I care about looking for the best in everyone. In our generation, there are more and more people with different backgrounds. I think it is essential that people are open-minded and not judgmental. Rather, people should celebrate differences instead of creating a divided society that we are seeing more of today,” she said.
Iyer, who is leaving her club in the hands of trained officers after she graduates this year, will be attending University of Pennsylvania. She plans to pursue a dual major in economics and chemical engineering.
For students looking to become involved with some sort of activism, she recommends finding an adult to help put together a specific game plan and plot out a path to accomplish desired goals. She also recommended fundraising and conducting other workshops to build donations for whatever cause a person might be interested in advocating for. Most importantly for Iyer though, was the perseverance to follow through on something that originally was just an idea in her head.
“Follow your passions,” she said. “With hard work and passion, anything can happen. What started off as a flicker of an idea in my head turned into a successful club. That gives me inspiration to do anything I want to do.”