Youngest Nobel Prize Winner Inspires Eastern Students

Eastern Connecticut State University students and alumni traveled to hear Malala Yousafzai speak in Providence, RI, on July 28. Yousafzai is a Nobel Prize winner who travels around the globe inspiring and encouraging women through her talks.

“Yousafzai advocates for equal educational opportunities, which fits right along with the mission of Eastern’s Women and Gender Studies program — to advocate for the elimination of all oppressions,” said Eastern alumna Erin Drouin.

After girls in Pakistan were banned from attending school and other cultural activities such as dancing and watching television, 15-year-old Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban by speaking out on Pakistani TV and other media outlets. “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” she asked.

“I personally have never had to deal with any barriers to being educated in regards to my gender,” said Drouin. “Getting to hear not only her experiences but the ones she’s encountered through her philanthropic work was eye opening.”

Yousafzai used anonymous blogging online to bring attention to life in the Swat Valley under Taliban rule. One day a Taliban member fired three shots at her on the school bus and wounded her. After being airlifted to the United Kingdom, people all over the world offered their support. Once she had recovered from her injuries she returned to school and published her first book, an autobiography titled, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.” She was later awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

“For someone who is so young, Malala has accomplished so much,” said Drouin. After being the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, Yousafzai said, “This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”

Students in the Women and Gender Studies program at Eastern learn about the achievements and activism of women and other historically underrepresented groups as they consider the ways in which gender and other identities shape social experiences in a liberal arts context. Women’s and Gender Studies has grown into an interdisciplinary academic program that analyzes how all lives are shaped by gender and other forms of identity. Eastern is the only public university in Connecticut that offers a major in this field. Eastern students in the program think about social change in informed ways and develop an intellectual community that integrates a range of experiences.