Juniors Receive ‘Raise Your Voice’ Award


Sudiksha Pradhan ’21, Shawkin Kabir ’21, and Sruti Mohankumar ’21 pose for a photo outside the Long Center for the Performing Arts. They were one of the groups who won the ‘Raise Your Voice’ Award. Photo courtesy of Shawkin Kabir ’21.

By Shawkin Kabir, Dreamcatcher Poetry & Prose Editor

Shawkin Kabir ‘21, Sudiksha Pradhan ‘21, and Sruti Mohankumar ‘21 were one group of the winners of the Raise Your Voice Award from the Women’s Fund in Austin. The award selection was a grant program to aid in fighting barriers to female education. The three Westwood students are also debaters for the Westwood Speech and Debate team, and felt a special connection with the issues faced by girls in debate. This incited them to apply for the grant program with the goal of empowering women in debate.

“Ever since ninth grade, I’ve seen this offset between the men and women in debate and how women have been treated worse, and how they have been judged, and how we have to conform to this role in our community,” Sudiksha Pradhan ‘21 said, “That’s why through this grant we will create a path for us to create equal roles.”

When they started the process, they all had multiple meetings with each other to discuss how they felt and why this grant was important for them. These meetings involved telling stories of sexism faced by each of the members of the group, and then discussions of how they felt they could work against these affairs.

“We are perceived as weaker in the room [by debate judges],” Pradhan said. “That, in turn, makes our [arguments] in our debate round seem weaker. Also, whenever we propose an idea in a team setting, it is not seen as important until a boy member of the team advocates for it, so our voices aren’t heard. We want to create a safe space for women so they can have an equal opportunity in the event.

The process involved an essay process in which the students detailed points of issue that females within the community face, as well as creating a video in which the students discussed difficult experiences they faced as women in the debate community, and reached out to other girl debaters in Austin to be a part of the video as well.

“I think it’s important to include different experiences they might’ve encountered,” Pradhan said. “We have debated these girls before and we’ve heard about their experiences, as well. We wanted to shine a light on [these experiences]. Honestly, the more girls that we support, the better the outcome that will come out of it.”

After receiving the email that they had won, the three debaters found that they were going to attend a ceremony, as well. The event took place at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Austin, on Thursday, Jan. 30, with the featured guest being Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is Malala Yousafzai’s father, as their keynote speaker. The students also got to hear influential leaders in the community speak, hear about the different problems faced by women in Austin and different programs to fight these issues, as well as meet the other winners of the award and see their causes. 

“I felt beyond grateful to be a part of this event,” Sruti Mohankumar ‘21 said. “This experience was eye-opening because I realized that I wasn’t alone and there were other women around me who experience the same issues every day. As I stood there on stage with several other hardworking and talented young girls, I truly felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself.”

The students discussed with each other the different ways they could use this experience and their grant money to further their cause. Together they worked on calendars and lists of all the things they wanted to achieve in the future. After all that was planned out, they still felt like something was missing, so they wanted to take it a step further.

“We plan to have outreach [events] in middle schools,” Pradhan said. “We will primarily start with Austin, but of course debate is practiced nationwide and we hope to expand our idea out of Austin and into the greater world.”

This event inspired the group of girls to continue on in their quest for empowering women in debate, and girls everywhere. Their message is one of inclusion and kindness, and with this Raise Your Voice award, they want to make sure their voice is heard.

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