How I Am #RedefiningHERstory: Becoming a Social Activist


Anne Peng, Community Manager at Truth In Reality

I think I’ve always wanted to be an activist. When I was younger, social injustices would make me furious while my peers would shrug and go, “Well, what can you do?” And I couldn’t answer that question. I didn’t know what I could do. Or rather, I thought that there was nothing I could do. I believed that activism was something that other better stronger people could do. So I did other things. I pursued a career in academia because I figured at the very least my work at an educational institution could change students’ lives by expanding their minds.

During the last year of my PhD program in linguistics, I was very confused. I had accepted a Fulbright research grant to continue my work in Indonesia, but I didn’t want to go back to Indonesia. I knew I didn’t want to be an academic anymore because I didn’t like the lifestyle. But I didn’t know where or how to go from there. In retrospect, what I was lacking was self-confidence. I didn’t trust my decisions, so deciding on anything was very difficult.

I can’t say there was one pivotal moment that changed everything because the changes were so incremental. One important point though was when I submitted the final draft of my dissertation to the University. That felt good, because in all the six and a half years that it’d taken me to complete my degree, I always had this doubt in the back of my mind that I would finish. To accomplish something I didn’t think I could do was empowering.

I eventually turned down the Fulbright grant and effectively closed the door on my academic career. I say this easily now, but the decision at the time was far from easy. To provide some context, I’m a second-generation Chinese-American, born in the US to parents who immigrated from Taiwan. In many ways, “following my heart” was in direct conflict with the Confucian values I was raised with; how could I honor my parents’ sacrifices if I was selfishly focused on my own dreams? The last thing I wanted was to disappoint them. That is why I’m incredibly thankful that they were supportive of my choice, even if they didn’t quite understand it.

After that, I worked my way into the game industry for a year and a half. Not an easy feat since I didn’t have any contacts and didn’t have any applicable technical skills. I was stepping into a completely new industry. Over time, I built myself up as a community manager.  After a year or so, I knew I wanted to jump ship again. While I enjoyed the work, the sexism in the industry disgusted me. I knew I wanted to make a bigger difference in the world than diversifying a male-dominated industry with my presence.

I don’t like that the career shifting makes me seem flippant and undedicated, but to me it was worth it. I WANTED TO CHANGE THE WORLD! I was tired of being angry all the time and doing nothing about it. If only for my own sanity, I needed to do something. The direction itself didn’t even really matter. I just wanted to do more than rant on my Facebook wall about the objectification of women, gender inequality, and rape culture in the US. That’s not it either, race is another big one for me. The more I thought I about it, the more I realized there was an endless list of things I wanted to fight for. I asked myself that question, “What can you do?” and I pushed myself for an answer.

When I decided to go into the nonprofit world, I was again stepping into an industry where I knew no one and that I knew very little about. But I remember thinking to myself, “I got this. I did it before. I’ll do it again. I’m a DOCTOR!”

Today, I work in communications and events at an outpost of a national non-profit organization.  Through my work with this organization and volunteering with Truth In Reality as their Community Manager, I feel that I am making a difference in a much more tangible way than when I worked in the game industry.   And although I dedicated a large portion of my life to academia, linguistics feels like a past life. I hope my work as a social activist impacts other people’s lives. At the moment it’s too early to say. I’m still figuring out what I want to do in the long run, but I’m glad I now have an answer to the question, “What can you do to create social change?” Maybe it’s obnoxious to reply with a rhetorical question, but I want someone to ask me again just so I can say, “What can’t I do?”

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