Photo by Lia Cohen
Mihika Sridhar, a third-year microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics student minoring in public affairs, is a force to be reckoned with. A hardworking student, intersectional feminist, and staunch advocate for health and well-being, Mihika is a leader on the UCLA campus and beyond.
To Mihika, feminism is the “idea and corresponding actions that any marginalized group, in any society, especially women and all the different identifiers that come with that, deserve to be at as equitable a playing field as everyone else.”
Mihika’s feminist awakening came during her freshman year of high school, when seniors at her school organized a campaign called Feminism is Equality (F=E), which became an initiative to increase awareness about feminist issues. The group organized events and speakers, and had a Facebook page that shared articles on different types of feminism and featured a discussion board where people could share their thoughts and ideas.
Before this campaign, Mihika had never heard of the term feminism, and it sparked an interest in her that would last until today. While many people recall growing up with negative associations with feminism due to societal backlash to women’s equity and unfortunate stereotypes connected to the movement, Mihika’s first interaction with feminism was positive and inspiring. After learning more about feminism through F=E’s programming, Mihika read and listened to different voices and leaders in the space, as she wanted to explore informed opinions before she felt confident defining the concepts herself.
Feminism has impacted Mihika’s life on a variety of levels. An integral part of her journey since adolescence, feminism allowed Mihika to fully become herself as a powerful and independent woman. Growing up as a woman of color with immigrant parents in a predominantly white area in Massachusetts, Mihika’s feminism helped her embrace her culture and be proud of who she was and continues to be. From a young age, she always connected to her culture through music and dance, and her understanding of feminism and the people she surrounded herself with helped her believe in her ability to be just as capable as those around her.
Mihika’s love of dance and culture has continued to be a central part of her life during her time at UCLA, where she has been an active member of UCLA Taara, an award-winning competitive classical Indian dance team, for the past three years. UCLA Taara features dancers from four distinct classical styles, who participate in performances and culture nights at UCLA in addition to competing in competitive dance competitions around the country. The group’s dance pieces are narrative based, and focus on stories that showcase social justice issues such as domestic violence and survivorship, immigration, and colonization. By telling these stories through dance and music, UCLA Taara uses culture to shine a light on issues that affect so many people. Being on the dance team has been a huge part of Mihika’s college and life experience, and has taught her to give back through art and culture and to take pride and part in something that is both as extraordinary and unique to who she is.
Throughout high school and college, Mihika has surrounded herself with people who “walk the talk” by making themselves uncomfortable in order to serve others, and who champion women’s rights both on a peer to peer and structural level. Her feminist lens has shaped her world view and the way she chooses to engage with the world, and is the reason she has supplemented her scientific coursework with studies in public affairs and public health. Her passion for equity has also sparked her active involvement with health and justice organizations on campus.
One organization Mihika is particularly passionate about is the Student Wellness Commission (SWC). SWC is part of the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), and focuses on uplifting the health and well-being of UCLA students. As the Staff Development Director at SWC and Research Director of SWC’s Body Image Task Force, she has had the opportunity to create tangible change by offering assistance that meets students’ basic needs. From combatting subconscious messaging from the media about appearance and adhering to Euro-American beauty standards to increasing access to health insurance and tackling high rates of food insecurity, Mihika helps students overcome societal obstacles through empowering programming at SWC.
The New York Times recently reported that UCLA matriculates a higher percentage of students from a low-socioeconomic background than any other elite school, with 8.3 percent of students coming from families who made about $20,000 or less per year. Although she thinks UCLA still has a lot more work to do in terms of diversity, Mihika is proud to serve students who have not traditionally had the space, platform or resources to tackle some of these most pressing issues.
In the future, Mihika hopes to work in healthcare in some capacity. She recognizes that health is very political in terms of access, especially in the United States — a socially stratified melting pot where access to healthcare is unequal and inconsistent across intersections of race, class, gender and socioeconomic status. Whether she pursues her passion for health and well-being through medicine, public health, or public policy, Mihika knows that her perspective will be informed by her intersectional understanding of feminist issues and discourses. She believes it is a perspective that will be imperative to all of those fields. She is confident that she will always prioritize uplifting the people who don’t have the ability or privilege to do it themselves, as this ethos has always guided her work and will continue to do so in the years ahead.
As for the future of feminism, Mihika hopes that it continues to become more inclusive to different identities. She has seen this trend in spaces like the Women’s March which began a couple years ago led by white, wealthier women and has since transformed to include more diverse leadership in terms of race and background. She also hopes feminism begins to extend more heavily to the queer community, because in her experience, most feminist spaces disproportionately prioritize the first syllable of the word – “fem,” and notions of femininity and womanhood. In the coming years, she hopes the feminist movement stops focusing so much on the association between sex and gender, between womanhood and femaleness, and more on empowering those whose voices in the queer, gender non-conforming and trans communities that have historically been left out. In her own life she has seen the movement shifting more in this direction, but she hopes that it continues — and at a faster rate.
When asked about the role men can play in the movement, Mihika stressed the need for men to focus a lot more on being allies for the women in their life, not just because they have some sort of relation to them but because we operate in a broken system that needs to be addressed by those wielding the power. It has been very common for outspoken men to equate femininity to a role — i.e. their sisters, mothers or wives, and thus to speak out for their rights, but Mihika urges men to take allyship seriously and not only as a relative experience.
As the popular saying goes, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” and to Mihika, women’s issues shouldn’t matter just because they affect people in men’s lives. Instead, the best thing that men can do is use their privilege to speak up for women, for empowerment, and for people who don’t necessarily look like them. Mihika uses her privilege to speak up for underrepresented students who don’t have access to the same spaces and resources that she does, and men should begin to use that as a model.
In addition to being a full-time student, an award-winning dancer, an avid feminist, and a member of SWC, Mihika is also a Scope Patient Health Advocate at UCLA Health, a student researcher, and a leader on the UCLA campus at large. Mihika was previously a staff writer for FEM Newsmagazine, and is honored to share her story after recording the stories of so many inspiring feminists before her as a student journalist. She would like to extend a special shoutout to Sophia Galluccio, the Campus Life Section Editor, for helping shape her into the writer and feminist that she is today.
If you look closely enough, there is a very high chance you will find Mihika somewhere on campus making a positive change and promoting the well-being of many students through her diverse set of skills and interests. She is an activist and a changemaker, but most of all, she is a strong woman who does and will undoubtedly continue to disrupt the systems that marginalize those whose voices have been silenced for far too long.