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Alumna Leads Women's Rights Campaign from Behind her Camera

Tiana Abdulmassih discovered her passion for visual stroytelling at Harvard and told us in a recent interview that it has informed her work as an activist and athlete.

Since her days at Convent, Tiana Abdulmassih '11 has been busy with a wide range of interests at Harvard University. In addition to her academic and athletic pursuits, Tiana is one of the organizers of the emBODYindia project and recently led a photo campaign that attracted international attention. We talked to Tiana about the project and about her experience as a photographer for The Harvard Crimson newspaper. And she reflects on her time at Convent and looks ahead to her first Boston Marathon as a runner.

What was your experience at Convent?
I studied at Convent from Kindergarten through 12th grade and would not trade my time on Broadway Street for anything. My two older sisters also completed K-12 with me, and my younger sister will soon join us as graduates of Convent as she is currently a sophomore. For many, Convent is a family – but for me, Convent was a family that included my own. Not only was I able to make incredible friends and form close bonds with my teachers, but it was an integral part of developing relationships within my own family. I do not know many people who can say the same of their school.

What have you been doing since graduating from Convent?
After graduating from Convent High School in 2011, I started my studies at Harvard University. I was recruited to Harvard for the Crew Team, and rowed for two years before sustaining a career-ending injury. I have since become a long-distance runner and am so excited to run the Boston Marathon for the first time this coming April. Throughout college, I worked as a staff photographer for The Harvard Crimson newspaper and served as the photography and videography editor for 2014. Entering college with no idea of what I wanted to study, I was able to find my academic interests. I started as a Government major and later switched to Studio Art after developing my passion for photography. I am currently finishing up my senior year and enjoying every moment.

Explain the emBODYindia campaign, as well as your inspiration and goals for this project.
emBODYindia started as a response to the ongoing objectification, harassment and abuse of women in India. In October, the Times of India published a series of photographs of a famous Indian actress' cleavage. My roommate, who is from New Delhi, came to me completely enraged and wanting to do something to show women back home that she and the rest of the Harvard community supported them and their rights. The emBODYindia photo campaign was born. The campaign includes photographs of Harvard students and faculty members of all ethnicities holding slogans in support of women's rights. We want to convey the simple message that a woman's body is her own, and her clothes are never an invitation for judgment or harassment. Our campaign is aimed at the Indian community, but our message is a global one that has reached around the world.

Read more about the project on the Harvard US-India Initiative blog. And see all of Tiana's photos on the emBODYindia Tumblr page.

What role does photography play in your life and how has it changed in your time at Harvard?
I had taken AP Studio Art at Convent High School, but my focus had been in drawing and painting. I joined The Harvard Crimson's newspaper staff as a photographer as an extracurricular and to try something new. It did not take long for me to really become interested in visual storytelling. I had always taken photographs for fun, but it was not until I photographed the Boston Marathon bombings and lockdown in 2013 that I really saw the power and importance of photojournalism. Through my studies and work for The Crimson, my love of photography has developed into a life-long passion and pursuit to bring about change through photography.

What are you studying and what is your plan or vision for life after college?
I am studying Studio Art with a minor in Economics and a citation in French. I have no set plans for post-college life, but want to be able to apply both my artistic and business skills to the best of my ability.