SIPA – A Place Where I can be Proud of what I’m Studying

by Momoko Nakayama

4:6 – When I first heard the male-female ratio for the incoming class of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, where I recently began my studies, I was astonished. Coming from the excessively male-dominated environment at the University of Tokyo, where I would sometimes be the only female student in a lecture full of students, this contrast was almost shocking.

Just by looking at the statistics shared during orientation, I was already feeling excited for what’s to come – to be able to immerse myself in a field of study that would be impossible to explore in Japan, gender and public policy.

My strong interest in studying abroad, and specifically at SIPA, was initially motivated because of the fact that SIPA is one of the very few schools around the world that offers a program in gender and public policy. This unique program prepares students with the practical skills to integrate a gendered lens in policies of any social spheres – including politics, economics, and welfare, and beyond.

One month into the program, I cannot be excited enough to be taking courses on gender mainstreaming in public policy, reproductive rights, and corporations and human rights, all courses unique to SIPA. As I spend endless hours in the many solemn libraries on campus, reading and analyzing research by seminal gender studies scholars such as Judith Butler, Barbara Cole, and Bell Hooks, just to name a few, I think about how privileged I am, as the depth and comprehensiveness of gender related courses offered at SIPA is unmatched, in comparison to the opportunities I had in Japan.

Furthermore, another crucial element of my study-abroad experience is the relief of being able to proudly share the field of my interest. Despite a growing understanding, given that “gender” is still a sensitive topic that might not be perceived with unanimous support in Japan, I always had a tendency of being careful about sharing that I study “gender and policy” whenever I meet someone new for the first time. I would usually exchange some conversations that touch upon well-known gender issues to understand their positioning before I openly share that my research field is in gender.

However, here at SIPA, provided that there is a program that specifically focuses on gender and policy, I can proudly share that I am interested in gender, without hesitation – and I never knew how invigorating this would be.

This is only the beginning, and I look forward to what’s to come, but I would like to mention that all of this would not be possible without the support of the Ito Foundation USA – Friends of UTokyo Scholarship, and I am beyond grateful for all the opportunities that this scholarship has allowed me to realize.

Photo of all international dual degree students at SIPA during orientation