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Acting After #MeToo | The Public Health Advocate

Acting After #MeToo

The #MeToo movement has gained considerable traction and support since its inception. As more people have raised awareness about the incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment and violence (SHSV), survivors have felt more empowered to share their stories, creating a powerful feedback loop that strengthens the movement. Still, coming forward takes an incredible amount of courage due to institutional and environmental factors in areas such as entertainment, the workplace, and higher education. While starting and perpetuating conversations is an excellent way to get started, it’s only the beginning of the solution.

“Raising awareness and leaving it at that isn’t enough,” maintains Nazineen Kandahari, a Joint Medical Program student at UCSF and UC Berkeley. “Give people a way to act.” This spring, Kandahari and a few of her classmates organized #MeToo in Medicine, a community-centered event that addressed gender-based discrimination in the medical space. It also included a training on fostering a supportive environment for SHSV survivors. Kandahari explains that she wanted attendees, especially those who had little to no exposure to the issue, to leave with tangible skills to be a part of the solution rather than just a better definition of the problem.

Since the event, Kandahari has continued working on the issue, grounding her efforts in survivor support and empowerment. She’s establishing #MeToo in Medicine as an annual UCSF event for years to come while communicating with the school to release information regarding annual SHSV incidence and prevalence. Publishing anonymous data holds institutions of higher education accountable for what goes on behind closed doors. For people who aren’t aware or involved with the issue, it can be surprising to learn how much SVSH actually occurs in universities across the country.

“I see UCSF as being a leader in this trend,” Kandahari explains, “and promoting this norm so other medical schools and institutes of higher education to do the same thing.” She has also expanded her programming to include a scalable toolkit addressing SHSV in the medical space to be used on an organizational level, from medical institutions of higher education to groups like the American Women’s Medical Association.

Kandahari exemplifies what we as citizens, especially students in one of the most powerful universities in the world, have the power to do: organize and advocate. Berkeley has a reputation of civically engaged students who collectivize and protest for causes they believe in. While many current students don’t feel this part of Berkeley culture as strongly as their hippie-era counterparts, all of us care about something. Many of us have an idea of how we want to make our mark on the world after we graduate. However, we have the resources and the person-power to make a change while we’re still students. It just takes something we are willing to pour our time and resources into.

“Cold emails. Elevator pitches,” Kandahari answers when I ask how she’s convinced professional stakeholders to help in various stages of her project. “People will pick up on genuine passion and good intentions,” she concludes firmly. “If you have good intentions, the world will be on your side.” She advises those who are ready to turn their passions into community-based interventions to start with why, put a lot of thought behind actions, and be comfortable with delayed gratification.

Kandahari used her fervor to fuel her continued action in an area of the #MeToo movement where she was able to make a great impact due to her positionality, experience, and drive. Even if you have yet to find an issue that intrinsically motivates you spearhead a solution, you can still physically give your time to social causes you care about. We can normalize civic engagement and participatory action as something done not only as individuals, but in educational settings and with our friends and peers. There’s a point where increasing discourse just leads to more noise, and that’s when it’s time to act.