Joya Dass, a business news anchor for NY1 news and a Ted Talk presenter, came to Boston College on Nov. 18 to speak about her experiences, both personally and professionally, as a South Asian woman in the workforce.
The discussion, which was hosted by GlobeMed and co-sponsored by Asian Caucus, FACES, Women’s Resource Center and the South Asian Student Association, was facilitated by Isra Hussain, MCAS ‘17 and GlobeMed Boston College’s Director of Communications. Following a Q&A format, the conversation broached a variety of topics ranging from Dass’s family history to her professional trajectory to her advice on female empowerment.
Alongside being a news anchor, TV host and Ted Talk presenter, Dass is also the co-founder of LadyDrinks, a women’s networking initiative for South Asian female entrepreneurs in New York, and the director and producer of a documentary called First Sight about curable blindness in Tamil Nadu, India.
Growing up, inspired by seeing Tom Brokaw on TV, Dass’s one goal was to be a television reporter, despite protests from her parents who wanted her to become a doctor. Her resilience to pursue her goal was strengthened when she found out during her sophomore year of university that her tuition had not been paid. In response to the administrators who told her she had to leave the school, she asserted, “I’m sorry, you and I, we are going to sit here, and we are going to figure this out, but I am not going anywhere.” By the skin of her teeth, she ended up finding a journalism scholarship through the “aggressive letter writing campaign” she undertook and was able to finish college.
Dass then discussed growing up in her household; women in her family had no voice. Her father physically abused her mom, and this environment of domestic violence made her want to leave home as soon as possible.
In response to a question about how South Asian culture seems to brush open conversation under the rug, Dass explained, “Every time my dad and mom would have an incident, there would just be dead silence, and nobody would address it, and nobody would talk about it, and everybody would just tiptoe around each other on eggshells.”
“I think that my dad definitely suffered from bouts of depression. I don’t think he ever sought help. I think that getting help would’ve emasculated him somehow,” Dass confessed. In this way, for her household specifically, greater, more open communication faced a difficult hurdle as a result of the perceptions of stigma her family faced.
Moving into her professional life, Dass discussed taking a women’s empowerment course six years ago. Her biggest takeaway was that “we as people, we as women, have got to put ourselves first, not in a selfish way, not in a boastful way, but when you fill up your own tank, you are able to interact...in a much more meaningful way.” For South Asian women, or women of any other minority cultures, in particular, she said that “believing in yourself” and “putting your nose to grindstone” are her most important pieces of advice. And if you aren’t the most confident or the one who immediately raises her hand, “find one person that believes in you” because “it only takes one,” and “do something that is outside your comfort zone once a week.”
In her professional life, after working at ABC 7 in New York, she found herself unhappy with the type of news she was doing. To figure out her next steps, she went freelance and eventually decided that she wanted to team up with nonprofit organizations and make documentaries -- telling the types of stories she wanted to tell and in the way she wanted to tell them. In her first documentary, First Sight, she partnered with Sankara Eye Foundation and ended up following three children anecdotally through the process of leaving their villages, getting surgery to cure their blindness and returning home.
Since then, she has produced documentaries for the Rockefeller Foundation, highlighting the stories of the projects that the foundation has funded. And in the future, she hopes to tell the story of women in the Bond Street Theatre in Afghanistan. The Bond Street Theatre encourages creative expression after years of cultural repression by giving Afghan women a space to create and put on plays by women for women.
In closing, Dass emphasized the importance of sharing your story. “It’s important to encourage people to tell their stories, and I think that that is, as of late, what my journalism is doing -- asking people to share their stories,” Dass stated.
A few years ago Dass directed stories of women survivors of domestic violence --“when they saw their stories, and they had come out on the other side of the crisis, that was probably the most empowering thing for them, because now somebody could look at that story, in whatever situation they might be, and...say ‘Maybe I could have the courage to do the same’.”