The Harvard Institute of Politics’ John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum typically reserves its stage for heads of state, diplomats, and award-winning journalists while students usually sit in the audience. But on Friday, the roles were reversed.
The IOP hosted its inaugural “Our Narratives” event last week, inviting nine undergraduate students to the stage to tell their own stories about identity and public service and share the lessons they’ve learned from their experiences.
Tarina K. Ahuja ’24, co-director of diversity and outreach at the IOP, organized and hosted the event which featured Jana Amin ’25, Aaryan G. Morrison ’22, Laila A. Nasher ’25, Jaivyance G. “Jai” Gillard ’25, Ryan Doan-Nguyen ’25, Coby Y. Garcia ’25, Eusung Rhys Moon ’26, Sarosh N. Nagar ’24, and Hana M. Kiros ’22-’23 as speakers.
Ahuja said she organized the IOP’s “Our Narratives” event because it is “vital that we have student voices being amplified in every space.”
“To have the forum stage be a place where students of all identities and backgrounds have this really unique opportunity to tell their stories is something that’s really special and beautiful,” Ahuja said. “It’s a testament to the fact that every single one of us belongs here, that every single one of us deserves to be here, and that none of us are imposters in this space.”
Janna E. Ramadan ’23, president of the IOP, said undergraduates want to see more forums at the IOP featuring their peers, adding that the most well-attended IOP forums last semester either had student moderators or featured young voices.
“For this space to exist is essentially an opportunity for us to learn from one another,” Ramadan said. “We — despite our age, and maybe resume, careers — are public servants and are already entering into that sphere and deserve to be uplifted and recognized for the work that we’re doing.”
Nasher, who is Yemeni-American and grew up in Detroit, spoke about the prevalence of child marriage in her hometown at the event.
“I was 14 years old and had just received my first marriage proposal,” Nasher recalled. “Unfortunately, I was neither the first nor the last young girl to receive a marriage proposal — before me was my mom.”
Nasher said child marriage is an issue that extends beyond Detroit and remains legal in more than 40 U.S. states and across other countries around the world.
“As we sit here today, 650 million girls across the globe were married off as children,” Nasher said. “Child marriage has no race, no religion, and no culture.”
Doan-Nguyen, a Crimson News editor, spoke about how journalists helped him organize one of the first anti-Asian hate protests in the United States in 2021, at a time when hate crimes targeting Asian Americans were on the rise.
“When I reflect on how we were able to do this, I realized that I owe it all to the ones who first shared my story,” Doan-Nguyen said. “Journalism, I’ve come to realize, doesn’t just document history — it creates it.”
Doan-Nguyen said he now hopes to pursue journalism as a career.
“With journalism, stopping Asian hate doesn’t seem all that impossible,” Doan-Nguyen said. “With journalism, you can truly change the world.”
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.