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Ebere Oparaeke, BA 2016


What are you currently doing in your career? 

Currently I work as a youth development professional at the Neutral Zone (NZ), a non-profit teen center in downtown Ann Arbor. I actually didn't plan on doing youth work, specifically. I was introduced to the NZ through a friend as a potential organization to do some meaningful volunteer work before I graduated, and I ended up being hired to work in the after school space and advise S.E.E.D., the diversity and social justice program. Currently, I also facilitate trainings and summits through the Youth Driven Spaces (YDS) initiative to help other youth organizations incorporate principals of youth adult partnership into their work. I really love that the NZ has given me the opportunity to directly apply and witness so much of the theory that I studied through my degree and time spent at the University.  I think it's really easy for students to forget that what we learn has real, tangible implications for people's lives. It's not just about learning these concepts, but actually seeing and recognizing them through lived experience.    

What are your goals for the future?

I aspire to do reproductive justice work in my future. Through Women's Studies I was introduced to doula work and became trained 4 years ago at the Center for the Childbearing Year. Currently, I offer volunteer doula services through the Dial-a-Doula program at the UM Women's Hospital, work with pregnant teens at the NZ, and am working with a local non-profit health center to create a doula referral service for pregnant young adults. I recently had the opportunity to attend the Decolonize Birth Conference through Ancient Song Doula Services in Brooklyn, NY. The experience re-invigorated my desire to create birth spaces and advocate for the reproductive needs of those most marginalized in many reproductive spaces and within our society in general–black, indigenous, and latinx women, queer and trans folks, teen parents, people with disabilities, poor people, etc. Not only are they left out of many conversations regarding reproductive health, but they are forced to rely on ill-fitting, oppressive systems and services created off their backs without them in mind. What would it look like to center ourselves as we use our own tools, healing practices, beliefs, and theories to create and provide the care that we need? This space, this work, is what I'm excited for, what I'm passionate about, and what I'm striving to be a part of.    

Why did you decide to major in Women's Studies? 

Originally, I planned to simply minor in Gender and Health. As a pre-med student, I thought it would complement a science degree that I imagined would be appealing to medical schools. I soon learned not only that I couldn't bear to take any science classes outside of my pre-med requirements, but also that medical schools appreciated non-traditional degrees. I found myself really enjoying my classes in Women's Studies; they felt so much more satisfying and necessary than my science courses. I thought it was important as a future health care provider to not simply be equipped to address the ailments of my patients, but to also have an understanding of the systems and forces that often cause and exacerbate such health outcomes.  I wanted to approach medicine not just from a scientific perspective, but also with an understanding that our bodies often manifest trauma stemming from our location within oppressive systems. With this in mind, I met with Donna Ainsworth, the Women's Studies adviser (who is incredible!), and she told me that the credit requirements between the Women's Studies major and minor weren't drastically different, so amidst my parent's trepidation, I confidently declared Women's Studies as my major, a decision I don't at all regret.

How did your experiences in Women's Studies influence your career choices and your perspective?

My Women's Studies experience encouraged me to think with a critical and skeptical mind, constantly asking questions to probe my understanding. Who's being left out of this discussion? How do my own identities and privileges prevent me from seeing the flaws in this logic? Where are there gaps in my understanding of this concept? What information am I missing? This process of digging deeper has aided me as I continue to cultivate a more radical and intersectional feminism.

What advice do you have for current or aspiring Women's Studies majors?

Don't get trapped in the comfortable idea that gender is the only axis with which we experience ourselves! Intersectionality is not just a buzzword or chapter in our textbooks, but must be a fundamental practice as we grow in our feminism. Take time to listen to and read the work of further marginalized communities and ask yourself if you're simply trying to obtain a seat at the table (unintentional Solange reference), or if you're trying to break the table down completely.

What are your fondest memories of UM? 

My fondest memories were definitely spent with friends who I now consider some of the most important people in my life, my chosen family. I have vivid memories strolling and picnicking in the Arb with them, spending late nights and early mornings procrastinating on studying, unpacking our deepest traumas over a bottle of wine, laughing...crying...dancing...repeating. When I think about my UM experience, above all, these are the times, the people, that make my heart shine. And to think, I toured Ohio State's campus as a potential undergrad option! (Crisis averted!) 

Posted October 24, 2017