Olympian speaks at SMU Women’s Symposium

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Ibtihaj Muhammad’s message of power, strength, resilience, and representation echoed through the walls of the Hughes-Trigg Student Center on Wednesday March 7. The day was a commanding start to celebrate women on the eve International Women’s Day.

“As a women of color, as a Muslim, I’m not normally the image that people think of when they think of an Olympian. And, as a kid growing up in an African American household, sport was very centric to our way of life,” Muhammad said.

The 53rd Annual Women’s Symposium at Southern Methodist University featured keynote speaker Ibtihaj Muhammad. The speaker, Ibtihaj Muhammad, was the first Muslim-American to win a medal at the Olympic Games while wearing a hijab.

After graduating from Duke University as a member of the women’s fencing team, Muhammad then looked to the U.S. national fencing team as her next challenge in life. She later fought her way to a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

This year’s theme of the women’s symposium was ‘Hit Like a Girl.’ The term has often been thought of as implying women’s weakness or inferiority, but is now being redefined to empower young girls to understand that hitting like a girl is a good thing.

“Obviously, ‘hit like a girl’ has a negative connotation,” senior Sachi Sarwal said. “It’s just important that especially the younger generation doesn’t need to be ashamed of being a girl in various areas, especially in sports where there are so many gender differences. This is supposed to be uplifting for them.” Sarwal is a member of the Women’s Symposium Student Planning Core Committee.

“The keynote sounds so interesting and I wanted to hear more about her life, experiences, career goals,” sophomore attendee Emily Taxman said. “I heard about the event through my sorority and I know a bunch of my sorority sisters are here today.”

Sarwal, who also co-chaired the symposium, said that over 250 people were registered for the formal event and even more were expected throughout the day at the various speakers and sessions planned for the day. A group of students has been planning for this day-long symposium since last spring.

The student planning committee has been anticipating the day to hear from Muhammad about her Olympic experiences, her now published book, and what is next to come. Mattel, the creator of Barbie, will soon be releasing the Ibtihaj Muhammad Barbie who is adorned with head-to-toe fencing attire and a white hijab on her head.

“I love that Mattel is making these strides in the toy industry to make doll play more inclusive and diverse because it’s important that not just one type of kid from one background sees themselves in the toy aisle,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad spoke about the importance of representation. She explained that there has never been a doll that looks like her, referring to one who fences or one who wears a hijab.

“I think that it just as important for Muslim kids to have a Barbie doll that wears a hijab as it is for non-Muslim kids to have the opportunity to play with a doll who chooses to wear a hijab,” Muhammad said.

In attendance at the Women’s Symposium Luncheon were dozens of school-aged girls, SMU students and faculty, members of the Dallas community, Women’s Symposium award recipients, and more.

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