Madihah Akhter (Ph.D. 2020)

Madihah Akhter

Ph.D. in History and Ph.D. minor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, 2020


Tell us about your Stanford degree and what you are doing now.

I finished my Ph.D. at Stanford in History, with a PhD Minor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, in August 2020. My overlapping interests in gender, history, and modern political culture drew me to these particular programs. I had previously studied history, global studies, and gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and Tufts University. Studying languages, primarily Urdu and Hindi, reading novels about Partition, immigration, labor, and gender in South Asian contexts, and teaching modern history classes designed around contemporary global questions all ignited my passion for pursuing a Ph.D.

As a historian, I loved storytelling from underrepresented perspectives with the goal of building empathy with complex time periods and places that many people are unfamiliar with. While in the history department, I worked with scholars engaged in big topics and questions around state formation, decolonization, modern political culture, and gender. I even had the opportunity to work with CSA alum Raghav Malhotra on his excellent thesis, "Removed, Remade, Remembered: The Concept of Home for Witnesses of India’s Partition." The questions that ignited my research and teaching were broad and interdisciplinary by nature, and I was fortunate to find advisors, supporters, colleagues, and friends across Stanford.

I currently work at Stanford's Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, where I focus on serving graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds through programming, fellowships, and funding. As a diversity officer for all graduate students, I enjoy learning from multiple perspectives and offering resources to support graduate student learning, professional development, research, and community building.

How did your interactions with CSA contribute to your professional growth?

My current work in academic administration and diversity, equity, and inclusion for underrepresented students is directly the result of my engagement with diversity community centers such as CSA. Engaging with CSA taught me how important community building with folks who have similar interests, and sometimes similar backgrounds, can be. Especially on days when you're feeling frustrated or alienated in research or experience, you know where to go to find your community. Building connections across difference--South Asia is a large region with many diverse folks--is an important life skill that has served me well in my professional life.

What is one word that defines CSA for you? And why?

Zabardast! CSA is always a great time, always critical in the best ways, and always there for you.

If you were to give a piece of advice to CSA students, what would that be?

Community centers are shaped by the needs of its members. Approach CSA with an idea you have related to South Asia, and the amazing team there will help you make it happen!