Interview by Megan Foo, Women LEAD Blogger
Joyce Ou is a freshman at Yale University. An avid journalist and passionate advocate for education, she has been involved with initiatives including leading her school’s paper and serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine of Givology, an online nonprofit that aims to address educational opportunities in the developing world. Joyce hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of molecular biology and global affairs, and aspires to improve healthcare systems and global health within and beyond the US.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Joyce Ou: I immigrated to the U.S. when I was five. I grew up near inner city Los Angeles before moving to a much nicer suburb in the Los Angeles County. The move opened my eyes to economic disparity, and on a personal level, the difference an education – which my new classmates’ parents definitely had more of than my own – can make. This, alongside with my experiences as a 3-year-member member of my high school’s journalism staff, has driven me to adopt an attitude of global consciousness and empathy. I hope to do more work on a global scale in college, with a specific desire to work on global health.
Women LEAD: You are the Magazine Editor-in-Chief of Givology, a P2P nonprofit that leverages dollar donations to fund education projects in the developing world. Can you share with us some of your experience with Givology?
Joyce Ou: My friend introduced me to Givology because he thought it stood for a cause that I deeply care about: access to education. Givology’s transparency and mission statement drew me in, and I decided to get involved so that I can finally convert my passions in actions. Givology is fantastic about allowing new members to head their own project. Knowing this, I pitched the idea of an online magazine to our CEO, Joyce Meng. I strongly believe in the power of writing and wanted to do more journalism work, so I figured overseeing an online magazine was perfectly in my wheelhouse and would be valuable to the organization. Joyce was immediately enthusiastic and supportive, and my primary contribution to Givology was launched. As editor-in-chief, I do the entire layout of the magazine and oversee the writing, which includes editing articles and assembling content. We’ve completed our first issue which is focused on women’s education a few months ago, and I’m currently prepping for the second.
Women LEAD: What inspires you to keep fighting for global access to education?
Joyce Ou: Initially, my parents instilled in me a deep held belief in the value of education. It’s not simply the fact that they constantly told me to focus on my schooling, but rather, I became increasingly aware of the transformative power of education as I grew up and saw the sharp differences between my life and my parents’. My parents face limited job opportunities because they lack a college degree. It didn’t matter that my dad probably understands physics better than I ever will or my mom never really got a fair chance to properly complete schooling. Because getting an education was never in doubt for me, I will make more than they do because I’ll have a college degree. The injustice of this astounds me, and this shock propels me to be invested in educational opportunities for everyone.
Moreover, I saw a change in myself as I advanced through my years of schooling. I grew aware of my privilege, and by extension, I simultaneously grew aware of my power in society as a result of my education. This empowerment should be freely available to all – it’s essential for anyone’s character growth – so I hope to use my power to make it so that education can continue to empower people like it did for me.
Women LEAD: Why do you think journalism is an important vehicle for instigating social change?
Joyce Ou: Well-written articles have moved me and compelled me to reexamine my viewpoints. This is exactly why I think journalism is an important tool in social activism. Social change may involve policy reform, but true social change ultimately comes from a shift in people’s attitudes. Journalism is a driver in this, from courageous investigative pieces shining light on ignored issues to passionate opinion pieces encouraging a new point of view. It can get masses of people to listen, and then, hopefully, to care.
Women LEAD: On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Joyce Ou: I briefly touched upon this two questions ago, but to reiterate, I think empowerment is something that everyone should feel. Empowerment for me personally has encouraged me to challenge the limits of my potential, to do things that enrich my life with a purpose. In simplest terms, I believe empowerment correlates with happiness. Moreover, I believe more individual empowerment will lead to a greater fulfillment of societal potential, or essentially a better society. Women’s empowerment is not merely an issue of feminism, but rather one of equality. Of course, men around the world still enjoy more privileges than women, so to achieve equality, women’s empowerment needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Joyce Ou: Perhaps this answer is obvious, but my mom has been a big influence. Both implicitly and explicitly, her lack of education has shown me how important education is, from her constant outcries wishing she was more educated to the restrictions she faces because she doesn’t have a college degree. It’s her example that motivates me to increase accessibility to education.
Women LEAD: Are there books, movies and websites that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment and education?
Joyce Ou: One of my favorite books is Half the Sky, which sparked a serious interest in women’s empowerment for me. It opened my eyes to the many injustices women face, from sex trafficking to poor maternal healthcare. Suddenly, the oppression of women transformed from a vague horror story that I could distance myself from to a grim reality that I could no longer ignore. For example, I never even considered how dangerous pregnancy can be, considering how relatively safe it is in the U.S., but Half the Sky gave me an in depth understanding of the lack of maternal healthcare in developing countries as well as the obstacles facing the advancement of maternal healthcare. I can’t begin to imagine dealing with the oppression the women in the book faced, and after reading the book, I would like to help make it so that such oppression is not a reality for more women.