Hannah Amanuel

Coming of age, setting a goal: Hanna Amanuel, child of Eritrean immigrants, plans to help others as she was once helped

Amanuel will graduate from Harvard College in May. With her sharp intelligence, a fresh degree and the future that it implies might seem like a given — an accomplishment, but not an unusual one. That is not the case. She got to this point, she says, because mentors of color drew her onto a path that included competitive private schools, role models, and the reassurance that she could succeed.

Racial disparities were clear to Amanuel even then, but the prejudicial structures beneath them were not. “As a child, I wasn’t aware of why it was that way. But I definitely felt like I wasn’t supported. I felt like the school didn’t see potential in me,” Amanuel says. “I did not imagine that I might go to a school like Harvard.”

“My project arose from a lot of what I have witnessed among women in my family … They feel a measure of discomfort with the ways in which their bodies are viewed by physicians and by people in general. Female genital cutting is often called ‘female genital mutilation’ and gets cast as this sort of ‘barbaric’ African practice. I think that my thesis emerged from a desire to look at the multiplicity of Eritrean women — to deconstruct a lot of the understanding that people have of this practice and of Africa.”