My Environmental Story: What it feels like to be accepted

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This summer, I got an internship with a new grant-funded project, the Connecticut Trail Finder. It was the first environmental-related job I ever held, and to say I am sad that it ended would be an understatement. You see, this summer was not only a positive experience but a healthy one. I was grateful enough to learn about resilience, perseverance, and assertiveness. The rapport  established between me and my supervisors was one I had dreamed about when first entering the environmental workforce.  

Being a Muslim Indian woman who chooses to wear Hijab, it can be quite difficult for me to believe in myself and be proud of the career path I have chosen. It is not just due to the stereotypical Indian parental and societal pressures, but also because of the lack of representation in the environmental field. Only recently did I declare myself an environmentalist because for so long I never really understood how a Muslim Indian woman who chooses to wear Hijab would fit into this dominating white discipline. Instead of positive experiences, I hear of marginalized members being mistreated and tokenized in the workplace due to their lack of matching the stereotypical image of white, male, or “tree-hugger vegan”  environmentalists. Due to these encounters and insecurities, I was fearful to apply for an internship, afraid that I would quickly join the group of discriminated and marginalized environmentalists. However, this fear lessened as I began my summer internship.  

My supervisors constantly supported and encouraged me to be a “go-getter.” From even before I started my internship, during my interview, I remember feeling at ease speaking with them about my passions, experiences, and career goals. They responded with such excitement and with such cheer that it felt like they wanted what was best for me, even if it meant not working with them. I really appreciated that. At the beginning of each week, my supervisors would check in with me to establish the goals and priorities for the week, but also see how I was doing mentally and emotionally. This summer was intense for personal reasons; however, the relationship I had with my supervisors allowed me to be honest during my weekly check-ins and know that my supervisors were my advocates.  

This summer’s internship was not all easy, though; it challenged me. As I mentioned previously, I learned what it meant to be assertive and how important it is to be. Prior to this internship, I was passive when relaying my ideas and opinions. I would never come forth with my own until I felt comfortable enough to and even then, that was rare. I wasn’t brought up in a household where I could freely speak my mind, and with the lack of diverse representation in the environmental field, it felt even harder to be able to feel valued enough to voice my concerns. However, the team I worked with during my internship made it a point to ask me for my thoughts and for what my goals were for the internship. It was a relationship in where my team members wanted me to grow and thrive. I felt appreciated and that  if I ever needed help, there would be plenty of people more than willing to offer.  

This summer I had an internship that provided me with an expectation of a healthy work environment, role models who exhibit perseverance and values of assertiveness and honesty. I am thankful for this experience, as I now have this expectation and knowledge of what it’s like to work in a place where you are encouraged constantly to speak your mind and push for the projects that you want to make happen. I now know how a healthy work environment should be set up, like how my supervisors always look for opportunities that will cater to their passion-driven employees and not let them fend for themselves. I now know what it feels like to feel valued and safe in an environmental workplace, and I will not settle for less. I now realize and acknowledge I am worthy of continuous love and support, especially from my supervisors, and that I should not expect anything less.  

A huge shoutout to my previous supervisors and mentors, Kimberly Bradley and Laura Brown for their endless encouragement. Even now after my internship ended, I appreciate both of you. Thank you to the rest of the CT Trails team and partners, as I have had such a wonderful time working with all of you, and I hope our paths cross sometime soon.  

The Daily Campus’ Opinion weekly column, My Environmental Story, is a place where the discussion of one’s journey as an environmentalist changes and transforms as one learns more about the world around them. This series will highlight individuals and their honest reflections and introspections. The goal of this blog is to emphasize how every individual has a unique environmental story reflective of their different backgrounds and experiences. There will be an emphasis on people of color and their stories due to the historic and prevalent disproportionate discrimination against marginalized community members being environmentalists. Any opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and not the opinion of The Daily Campus nor the University of Connecticut. 

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