A Different World

Emily Eckardt with a group of students at AUW.

Emily Eckardt '13 (third row, third from left) takes a break with students from a class she taught during her first year at the Asian University for Women.

Emily Eckardt ’13 has taken her passion for women’s rights to Bangladesh and the Asian University for Women (AUW), where she teaches gender and sexuality discourse. There, she learns about her students' cultures and supports them in an academic community in which their ideas are heard and treated with respect. At the AUW, where she is a junior fellow, the former women’s & gender studies major works with students from all over Asia at the region’s first liberal-arts college, which promotes cultural exchange and women's empowerment.

What led you to the AUW?

AUW began five years ago with the mission of empowering women from all over Asia to become leaders in their communities and is based on the American liberal-arts college model. After studying abroad in India and focusing on cross-cultural feminism in my coursework, I knew that I wanted to go back to Asia and have more hands-on experience with social-justice movements in non-Western contexts. I also was seeking a way to continue traveling while beginning my postgrad life. I can’t say Bangladesh was where I pictured myself living after college, but it is a fascinating country to live in and certainly a place most people don’t have the opportunity to travel to.

What does your current job entail, and what about it interests you most?

One of the reasons I love my job so much is that I get to work on many projects and am not confined to any one set of responsibilities. I have served as a teacher’s assistant for AUW classes on gender and sexuality in Asia, migration in Asia and international leadership; as a tutor in the writing center; and as an assistant in the admissions office. I also am involved with other aspects of student life here, such as advising a group that writes for an international-development Web site and supporting a club that works to “speak up” against gender violence. There’s never a lack of things to do on campus, and I'm really happy to be at a job where I have no “daily grind.”

What do you love most about what you do?

The students! While AUW can be a challenging place to work at times because it is only five years old and pretty understaffed and resourced, the students make every day worth it. I don’t think you can find a more driven and grateful student body than at AUW. Last week, a student came to tears telling me how she learned about self-respect in the past four years, and last semester an Afghani student I work with told me she never thought she would attend university because she was weaving carpets in Iran until age 12.

Before coming to AUW, many students had never left their communities, spoke minimal English and had been educated in schools that prioritize memorization over critical thinking. Now, students are being invited to international conferences to present field research from their communities, Pakistani students are singing in Urdu on International Mother Language Day in Bangladesh, and Tamil and Sinhalese Sri Lankan students are performing together on stage. I feel really lucky to get to work closely with these women.

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?

I would want all of my closest family and friends to have unlimited flights and diplomatic passports so that we could visit each other in all of our new communities. I also wish that Bangladesh had gummy bears and that mango season would come faster. Oh, and that my fractured knee would heal! 

What was your favorite organization at Dickinson?

The Montgomery Service Leaders (MSL), hands down! Originally part of the Bonner Foundation, a national program that allows work-study students to work in community organizations, MSL was one of the most formative and enriching opportunities during my time at Dickinson. Not only did it allow me to stop sleeping through my breakfast shifts in the Caf, but I was able to work at Carlisle C.A.R.E.S., one of the local homeless shelters, from my first to last year on campus. Initially, I aided in the resource center with all the day-to-day activities and then facilitated my own project—creating support groups for people transitioning out of homelessness. My work with C.A.R.E.S. helped me become immersed in the Carlisle community, and MSL gave me a network on campus with which to share those experiences.

What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?

I really couldn’t pick just one: studying abroad in India and Germany, going on service trips to New Orleans and the Tohono O’odham reservation, working with 300 other Dickinsonians to change our sexual misconduct policy and creating such deep friendships with some of the most compassionate and adventurous people I feel privileged to have in my life.

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Published April 14, 2014