Meet the Co-President of iGEM, Sanjana Lakshmi!

Sanjana Lakshmi

Majors: Political Science and Legal Studies

Age: 22

Hometown: San Jose, California


1. What is iGEM?  

International Gender Equality Movement (iGEM) is Northwestern University’s chapter of the United Nations Foundation's campaign called Girl Up. Our mission is to promote the education, leadership and well-being of girls both in our community and in developing countries around the world. Through campus events, iGEM fundraises, advocates and raises awareness for Girl Up programs specifically aimed at adolescent girls in Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Guatemala and India. iGEM members also work with girls in the Chicagoland area in order to stay connected to our mission in a hands-on way, culminating in an annual leadership summit for local middle school girls in the spring.

2. What is your role on iGEM and how did you become involved?

I am the current co-president of iGEM. As co-president, I help lead weekly meetings, where exec board and general members organize campus and community events every quarter. I help organize these events, manage an annual budget, schedule meetings with advisers, write annual reports for iGEM's events and maintain relationships with outside organizations that iGEM works with. 

3. Why do you think it is important to have this organization on campus?

I think iGEM is important because of the international focus that we bring to the gender justice issue. Many amazing groups on campus focus on feminism and gender equality at Northwestern and domestically, which is so, so important. But what is unique about iGEM is our international perspective.

4. What does International Women's Day mean to you? 

I've been passionate about gender justice for a long time, and International Women's Day is a really important way to make the public more aware of gender equality issues. I also appreciate International Women's Day as a movement that was originally started by socialists and working-class women (it was originally called International Working Women's Day!), and requires intersectionality. Poor women, women of color, trans women, etc. need to be at the center of International Women's Day because we will never be equal until the most oppressed members of our society are equal. So for me, it's really important to remember the historical roots of International Women's Day as a concept created by and for the most marginalized women.

5. Did the organization do anything to celebrate the day?

iGEM doesn't do anything in particular to celebrate International Women's Day, but we do advertise events to our members. We always try to take iGEM members to the YWCA's annual International Women's Day event, which features amazing female speakers and performances. This year, we also supported the Women's Center in their programming for A Day Without Women. 

6. What are your thoughts on the recent campus march for the women assaulted at SAE?

I thought the march was extremely important, and I'm glad it happened. I was able to attend the rally afterwards and hearing the stories of survivors was very powerful and necessary. I appreciated that the march was organized by a diverse set of people and that it very much centered survivors. I think it's also important to remember that SAE is not the only fraternity at which assaults occur, and that misogyny and sexual assault are a problem with the culture of fraternity life in general. But the march was a moving event that addressed all of this, and I hope that all those who attended continue to fight against sexual assault.

7. Does iGEM have any events coming up? If so, what are they?

In April, iGEM will be holding our annual 5K to support Girl Up! Be on the lookout for our Facebook event next quarter! Our annual leadership summit for middle school girls also takes place in May.

8. What was your favorite sign you saw from the women's marches all over the world?

I LOVED the sign that went viral that said "Don't forget: white women voted for Trump." Accountability is important, remembering complacency is important and challenging privilege is important. I think that sign spoke to all of these things.

9. Who is your favorite celebrity feminist and why?

I really, really love Viola Davis. I mean, her acting talent is incredible. Of course, I also love the intersectional approach she brings to feminism, and how she's not afraid to talk about the struggles she has faced as a Black woman in an industry that is often racist and sexist.