The Top: Inspirational Women According to UCR Professors

UCR professors share their answer to the question, "Who are the women that have inspired you most?"

Tiffany López, professor of theatre, answered, “A woman who inspires me is Malala Yousafzai.”

Welcome to The Top!

Each issue, we present a list of UCR staff and faculty favorites — from walking spots to gardens to events.In honor of March being Women’s History Month, we asked a few UCR professors to name the women that inspire them most and why.

If you have a favorite spot you’d like featured or an activity you’d like to share, email lille.bose@ucr.edu

1. Reza Aslan, professor of creative writing

“The woman that most inspires me happens to be my wife, Jessica Jackley, the co-founder of one of the most important nonprofits in history, Kiva.org,” Aslan stated.

Kiva’s mission is to “connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.” Kiva allows people to lend money via the Internet to low-income, underserved entrepreneurs and students in over 70 countries. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva allows people to loan money to a borrower whom they connect with. When borrowers repay them fully, the lenders can use that money to empower another person by supporting a new loan.

Reza Aslan (right) said that his wife, Jessica Jackley (left), is the woman that inspires him most.

Reza Aslan (right) said that his wife, Jessica Jackley (left), is the woman that inspires him most.

2. Christine Ward Gailey, professor of anthropology

Christine Ward Gailey

Christine Ward Gailey

“I really admire single mothers who work and get an education. These women are so committed to setting an excellent example for their children and bettering their lives, despite the negative sniping by the right-wing media. These kinds of families are on the increase around the world because of wars, patriarchal abandonment, escaping violent spouses, rape leading to being shunned by communities, border and immigration separations, and simply deciding to have kids on one’s own. Their struggles for equal pay, safe environments, reduced violence, reproductive health care and access to abortion, and so on, are at the forefront of all women’s rights efforts.”

3. Michelle H. Raheja, associate professor of English

Michelle H. Raheja

Michelle H. Raheja

“In the wake of the announcement that Pope Francis will canonize Father Junipero Serra, the story of Toypurina, a late 18th century Tongva/Kizh leader and healer who resisted the genocide and compulsory Christianity of the Indigenous peoples of what is now known as California, becomes increasingly timely and critical. At the time of Toypurina’s birth, the Spanish colonization and subjugation of Indigenous peoples in the Los Angeles basin-area had already begun, spearheaded by the efforts of Serra and in conjunction with the Spanish military. Toypurina witnessed the Tongva population of roughly 5,000 fall to 1,500 in a brief time span due to disease, displacement, and starvation. She also witnessed the enslavement; institutionalized sexual violence of Native men, women, and children; land dispossession; and destruction of languages, cultures, spiritual beliefs, and nonpatriarchal/anti-oppressive gender dynamics as the Spanish mission system spread its web of violence throughout California. In an effort to quell this systematic destruction of her people, Toypurina collaborated with seven villages to organize a rebellion against Mission San Gabriel Arcangel in 1785. Although this rebellion is a key part of a long and inspiring series of Native resistances to genocide and settler colonialism from at least 1492 to the present, it was ultimately unsuccessful. Toypurina was captured and subsequently forced to convert to Christianity, divorce her husband, receive a Spanish name, move to northern California (never allowed to return to her home territories), and marry a Spanish soldier. She died when she was in her 30s, but her legacy lives on in the struggles of California Indians to survive, thrive, and continue to resist the physical and discursive forms of genocide inaugurated by Spanish and later U.S. colonization.

As we approach Women’s History Month, I would like to remember and celebrate Toypurina, a little known, but critical local historical figure. I want to remember her towards the end of her life in a marriage to which she didn’t consent, forbidden to practice any of the important cultural and social aspects that gave her life meaning as a Tongva woman and leader and knowing that she would live the rest of her life far from everything she had known and loved. But I also want to imagine the heroism she displayed in the face of insurmountable odds and the courage she mustered in defense of her people, her respected role as a leader and healer, and the care and love she had for this place we now call Los Angeles County.”

"As we approach Women's History Month, I would like to remember and celebrate Toypurina, a little known, but critical local historical figure," said Michelle H. Raheja, associate professor of English

“As we approach Women’s History Month, I would like to remember and celebrate Toypurina, a little known, but critical local historical figure,” said Michelle H. Raheja, associate professor of English

4. Susan Straight, professor of creative writing

Susan Straight

Susan Straight

Susan Straight, professor of creative writing, could not choose just one woman that she is inspired by. So she gave us six! She answered:

Geneva Stevenson, my father-in-law’s aunt, who survived post-slavery Tennessee, Reconstruction Texas, segregated Tulsa, and came to Los Angeles, where she helped raise her sister’s six children; because she did, my three daughters are here.”

Susan Strickland, a local heroine whose family was among the first in Riverside, who helped integrate Riverside schools as a teacher, and who inspires me every day right now.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, who lost her mother, was raised by severe grandparents in a time hard on women, and who wrote for her entire life, inspiring millions of women writers.”

Toni Morrison, the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist whose books changed the way I looked at language and landscape, and made me a writer.”

Patt Morrison, the erudite and beautiful face of the Los Angeles Times, who writes about the people and places of southern California, and who loves books.”

“Every librarian I’ve ever met – most of them women – who guided my hands, and so many others, to just the right book, and sat patiently behind the desk while we found stories.”

Susan Straight, professor of creative writing, lists Geneva Stevenson, her father-in-law's aunt, as one of the six women that she is inspired by.

Susan Straight, professor of creative writing, lists Geneva Stevenson, her father-in-law’s aunt, as one of the six women that she is inspired by.

5. Tiffany López, professor of theatre

Tiffany Ana López

Tiffany Ana López

“A woman who inspires me is Malala Yousafzai. She is a passionate advocate for the education of girls and a survivor of traumatic violence who practices forgiveness as crucial to fostering the strength of spirit needed to forge paths for personal healing and social change,” said López.

At the young age of 11, Malala started writing an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu, describing her life under Taliban rule in northwest Pakistan and expressing her views on how girls should be allowed to receive an education. The Taliban threatened her life; on Oct. 9, 2012, a masked gunman shot Malala in the head while she was coming home from school. Malala survived the assault and has continued to advocate for female education ever since. At 17 years-old, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tiffany López, professor of theatre, answered, "A woman who inspires me is Malala Yousafzai."

Tiffany López, professor of theatre, answered, “A woman who inspires me is Malala Yousafzai.”

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