Feb. 22, 2022
Amber Shaverdi Huston, CAE
NACA Executive Director
What may be an introduction or simple passing on one end can be much more to the person on the other end of the hug/handshake. During a NACA Live sound check, Mona Tavakoli of Raining Jane ran through their notes and while testing the slides she asked who in the audience was Persian. Not expecting anyone to raise their hands, especially during a sound check, she was shocked to see my hand shoot up. After the sound check, Toire Vince introduced us. I didn't want to impose, and certainly didn't want to interrupt their busy schedule, but Toire knew how excited I was, especially considering Mona and I had something in common. Mona immediately opened her arms and gave me a hug; I'll never forget the energy and warmth in her voice. She asked about my family, how to pronounce my last name, and we hugged again when both shared that our families are both from Iran.
Growing up in the Midwest during a time of two wars rooted in longstanding Middle Eastern conflict and having a parent who immigrated gave classmates guise to call me derogatory names, harass me, and insult my family. I was treated differently by my peers and even the "adults" of my small town because of my ethnicity. Those feelings remain raw and, honestly, likely always will.
I can count on one hand the times I have met a Persian woman and Mona is the one Iranian woman I've had the opportunity to see speak, so to watch her powerfully play the cajon and command a room of over a thousand people was inspiring; it truly brought me joy and a wave of emotion. To be embraced by her, to connect with another Iranian woman, to watch as people celebrate her, and her band's accomplishments brought me feelings of gratitude and happiness. Meeting Mona provided me with a positive experience – the ability to speak and listen to a strong, intelligent, values centric, mission-driven woman who I had something in common with and that gives me hope.
This brief interaction still has me reflecting weeks later on how such a small act of connection can lead to a profound sense of inclusion and belonging. It serves as a good reminder that our informal interactions that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are just as important as the formal programs, trainings, and initiatives as we all seek to create college communities where everyone belongs. You never know who you'll meet or what will happen at a NACA program or what those experiences will provide you; for me meeting and watching the women of Raining Jane brought me joy, hope, enlightenment, and connection.
March calls on us to celebrate women, to break the bias and imagine a world where difference is valued and celebrated, thank you Raining Jane for representing and bringing together women of varying identities.
Amber Shaverdi Huston, CAE is the executive director of the National Association for Campus Activities. Shaverdi Huston has over a decade of association management experience focusing on transforming operations and people through project management, process design, strategy and assessment.