Examining Girl Empowerment: Annual Fund Scholar Karishma Desai

Annual Fund Scholar Karishma Desai spent the early part of her career pursuing two passions—education and cultural anthropology.

For five years, she taught elementary school in the Bronx and in Chicago. But she also did one-year stints in Kenya and India where she worked with indigenous communities and became interested in how first generation school-going children negotiated school knowledge alongside the knowledge passed down in their home cultures.

Desai finally found a way to merge those two passions in the Curriculum Studies doctoral program at Teachers College.

“What knowledge matters? Why does it matter? What does it mean for the kind of people we want to be and that we’re teaching others to be?” says Desai, who was named the 2016 Carole L. Sleeper Annual Fund Scholar. “TC is a place where I feel really content in asking these questions.”

Before being named an Annual Fund scholar, Desai attended TC part-time while working as an educational consultant. Most recently, she designed the curriculum and led professional development sessions at a new charter school in Queens serving immigrant and refugee children. This year, Desai will be able to focus more fully on her dissertation.

The Annual Fund Scholars program allows donors to underwrite student financial aid packages with gifts of $2500 or more to the TC Fund designated for financial aid. Gifts are matched by TC’s Board of Trustees and scholars are named in honor of the donor. More than 100 Annual Fund scholars have been named since 2013. 

“I’m so grateful to Ms. Carole Sleeper for supporting the Annual Fund,” says Desai, who hopes to land a tenure-track teaching position after graduating in May 2017. “My time in the doctoral program has been invaluable.”

For her dissertation, Desai is investigating girl empowerment programs such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative and the Girl Rising film that followed nine girls in the developing world. She also conducted fieldwork in New Delhi and in New York City.

“It’s interesting because it’s girls who are in some of the most marginalized and most under-resourced communities,” she says. “There’s a particular kind of girlhood that’s being celebrated. In the international development scene, it’s a Western version of girlhood that’s being taken up through these programs.”

One troubling aspect that she found in the girl empowerment message is that it tends to emphasize the importance of the individual.

“It’s putting a lot of pressure on young women,” she says. “Empowerment becomes an individual thing as opposed to something that’s supported by the state or supported by policies.” 

Published Tuesday, Jun. 7, 2016

Examining Girl Empowerment: Annual Fund Scholar Karishma Desai

Annual Fund Scholar Karishma Desai spent the early part of her career pursuing two passions—education and cultural anthropology.

For five years, she taught elementary school in the Bronx and in Chicago. But she also did one-year stints in Kenya and India where she worked with indigenous communities and became interested in how first generation school-going children negotiated school knowledge alongside the knowledge passed down in their home cultures.

Desai finally found a way to merge those two passions in the Curriculum Studies doctoral program at Teachers College.

“What knowledge matters? Why does it matter? What does it mean for the kind of people we want to be and that we’re teaching others to be?” says Desai, who was named the 2016 Carole L. Sleeper Annual Fund Scholar. “TC is a place where I feel really content in asking these questions.”

Before being named an Annual Fund scholar, Desai attended TC part-time while working as an educational consultant. Most recently, she designed the curriculum and led professional development sessions at a new charter school in Queens serving immigrant and refugee children. This year, Desai will be able to focus more fully on her dissertation.

The Annual Fund Scholars program allows donors to underwrite student financial aid packages with gifts of $2500 or more to the TC Fund designated for financial aid. Gifts are matched by TC’s Board of Trustees and scholars are named in honor of the donor. More than 100 Annual Fund scholars have been named since 2013. 

“I’m so grateful to Ms. Carole Sleeper for supporting the Annual Fund,” says Desai, who hopes to land a tenure-track teaching position after graduating in May 2017. “My time in the doctoral program has been invaluable.”

For her dissertation, Desai is investigating girl empowerment programs such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative and the Girl Rising film that followed nine girls in the developing world. She also conducted fieldwork in New Delhi and in New York City.

“It’s interesting because it’s girls who are in some of the most marginalized and most under-resourced communities,” she says. “There’s a particular kind of girlhood that’s being celebrated. In the international development scene, it’s a Western version of girlhood that’s being taken up through these programs.”

One troubling aspect that she found in the girl empowerment message is that it tends to emphasize the importance of the individual.

“It’s putting a lot of pressure on young women,” she says. “Empowerment becomes an individual thing as opposed to something that’s supported by the state or supported by policies.” 

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