Bernadette Lim is a powerful advocate for women. This Harvard University senior is the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization Women SPEAK. This amazing movement aims to create an open dialogue on women’s empowerment—which is something we at Her Campus are all about. Women SPEAK has a Leadership Summit and Mentorship Program, a National Chapter Network, a Scholarship Fund and a book in the works. All we can say is, wow. Bernadette was named one of Business Insider’s 19 Most Impressive Harvard Students in 2014, and we can see why!
As if that weren’t impressive enough, Bernadette is also the Founder of Project SHE, a research study that provides menstrual health supplies, sanitation facilities and education for primary school girls in western Kenya. Her incredible passion for improving the standards of health for women is something everyone should take note of. This 21-year-old is an inspiring example of what just one collegiette with a dream can achieve if she sets her mind to it.
Name: Bernadette Lim
College: Harvard University
Majors: Human Biology, Women’s Studies, Global Health
Graduation Year: 2016
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Twitter Handle: @bernielim
Instagram Handle: @bernielim
Her Campus: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Bernadette Lim: Women SPEAK. While I have never doubted the importance of the mission of Women SPEAK, I would have never guessed the virality it has achieved in little over a year. We’ve done so much in so little time, including organizing two Annual Girls’ Leadership Summits, establishing a national Women SPEAK Chapter Network series at colleges and high schools across the nation, holding a webinar series on current events affecting women and girls, a high school mentorship program and a public service scholarship program to honor young women who advocate for women’s rights in their communities. While our first Girls’ Leadership Summit attracted 50 students from 4-5 high schools around Los Angeles, our most recent Girls’ Leadership Summit held this past July attracted over 100 attendees representing 22 different high schools across California. One of the participants of the most recent Girls’ Leadership Summit even e-mailed me to say: “Whenever my sister and I see or hear anything promoting women's empowerment anywhere, we just randomly blurt out ‘Women SPEAK.’” The virality of Women SPEAK illustrates how needed this space is for young women today and the importance of integrating social media interaction with open dialogue, community, and impetus to take action against injustice.
HC: What are you working on right now?
BL: Lots! Here’s a preview:
In Women SPEAK, we’re specifically working on our new initiative called HerStory and the expansion of our national high school and college chapters. HerStory is a yearlong initiative (Sept 2015-Sept 2016) that will reclaim the historical and current contributions of women around the world through quarterly production of HerStory literary zines, a webinar interview series, and a yearlong mentorship program curriculum about women’s history carried out through our national high school and college chapters. In addition, we’re expanding our Women SPEAK high school and college chapters. In less than a year, we’ve recruited eight chapters throughout the nation to open a dialogue about women’s issues on their campus and establish mentorship programs in local high schools about gender, identity and social justice issues. Our hope in the next year is to recruit for a total of 30 Women SPEAK chapters across the nation and have each carry out the mission of Women SPEAK on their respective campuses and communities for its first full school year.
After the initial public launch of the 2015 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Boston, I am currently working with the Boston Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement and Big Sister Association of Greater Boston to initiate a working commission of college students in Boston to update and revise the report for its 2016 reiteration. By December, we hope to solidify a permanent working group of students and college affiliates that will be responsible for the biannual production of the status of women and girls in Boston and establish an advisory council through the Boston Women’s Commission that will oversee the writing and editing process.
I am also currently the Chair of the March of Dimes National Youth Council and am in charge of leading 19 youth leaders across the nation to work with the organization’s 1 million youth volunteers and 15 national service partners to raise awareness on premature birth, engage in community service and raise $5 million for the organization’s efforts to fund research to end premature birth.
Lastly, I’m the principal investigator of my undergraduate honors senior thesis that is a joint partnership between the Harvard Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health division, and the Los Angeles County Black Infant Health program. I’m interviewing 50 African-American families in LA County to explore breastfeeding and co-sleeping narratives in hopes to illuminate health disparities among minority communities in the greater Los Angeles area.
At Harvard, I’m a proud Health Leads Patient Advocate for low-income patients at Massachusetts General Hospital, research assistant to Nobel laureate health and poverty economist Amartya Sen, and senior advisor of the Harvard Asian American Women’s Association.
HC: What was the inspiration behind Women SPEAK?
BL: Together with Kristin Jones (Howard University), Danielle Cooney (University of Arizona), and Anna Sugiura (Loyola Marymount University), Women SPEAK started out of a series of coffee shop conversations about the difficult experience of transitioning from high school to college as a woman, particularly in the areas of body image, gender stereotypes, gender representation in the media and leadership representation. Reuniting every summer after high school, we realized that many of the offensive and uncomfortable encounters we faced as university women intertwined with misconceptions of our gender, race, class and/or socioeconomic status. A short party dress was an assumed sexual invitation. Taking a class in the Women Studies department was seen as useless for our future. Being one of few women of color at an architecture firm continues to be a daily encounter. We were shocked. We felt helpless. And we wish we had known how to better handle these situations before we came to the "real world" of college.
We at Women SPEAK know that the various realities of being a woman in today's society are unfortunate, enraging, and unacceptable. Yet, in a generation hyped by social media activism and media bombardment, we also believed that it's simply not enough to complain or protest through a virtual screen. Through our strategic programming of Women SPEAK that combines technology communication with social activism on the ground, we believe in the power of open discussion, mentorship, education and early intervention for young women in preparation for the encounter of an undoubtedly difficult world.
By educating young women on how to encounter and change their realities, we can create better opportunities not only for them, but with them.
HC: Where can others learn more about Women SPEAK and Project SHE?
More details about Project SHE can be detailed in my “Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight” with Women LEAD Nepal.
And more about the 2015 Report on the Status of Women Girls can be found on a recent blog featured on about.me.
Jamie is a senior Writing, Literature and Publishing major at Emerson College in Boston, MA. She is the Her Campus Life Editor, a National Contributing Writer, and Campus Correspondent of the Emerson Her Campus chapter. Jamie plans to pursue a career in the magazine industry. See more of her work at: www.jamiemkravitz.com