As women in college, life can be stressful at best, intimidating and disheartening at worst. There are multiple structures in place designed to prevent women, especially women of color, LGBT+ women, disabled women and women of lower socioeconomic status, from succeeding within academia, often through convincing them that they aren’t qualified for their major or career path. As a result, it’s essential for college women to have positive role models who will inspire them to stay motivated and keep going. Media representation plays a large role in this: the media that women consume, and the way that women are depicted in that media, drastically affects how women view themselves and their ability to succeed in college and afterwards.
Fresh U has you covered in your journey towards inspiration and motivation. We’ve compiled a list of eleven diverse female characters from literature who persevere in the face of challenges and will surely motivate you through the unique obstacles that college women face. As many of these women belong to marginalized groups in addition to identifying as women, they also provide inspiration for women who face barriers in response to identities in addition to their identities as women.
1. Lady Fire of the Dells (The Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore)
Fire is the perfect example of a woman who faces challenges because of her background and not only rises above them, but puts those challenges to good use. Her father was a monster capable of controlling the minds of others, a gift that she inherits, and while she deals with the stigma associated with her heritage, she learns to move past that stigma and use her abilities for the good of her country. She also consistently demonstrates that it’s possible to be strong and powerful while still retaining her kindness and humanity, and is also a great example of a successful bisexual woman of color. Keep Fire in mind the next time you feel that college life is forcing you to change who you are.
2. Cath Avery (Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell)
For every woman terrified to go to college because of their mental illness, Cath is for you. She suffers from severe anxiety, particularly in social situations, and has a very difficult time adjusting to college life as a result of that. She also shows that in spite of mental illness issues, it’s possible to adjust to college both academically and socially, even if you initially struggle.
3. Inej Ghafa (The Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo)
Inej finds herself beaten down by every possible force in her life: she’s a victim of human trafficking, was separated from her family and spent several years in an entirely foreign country. In spite of this, and the discrimination she faces from the natives of her new country because of her status as a foreign woman of color, Inej stays loyal to her friends and to her goal: of returning home and bringing vengeance to the people who hurt her. When you feel like there are too many obstacles in your way to succeed, remember the obstacles that Inej has faced, and know that you can pass your exams.
4. Dan Wilds (The All For the Game Trilogy by Nora Sakavic)
For all the female leaders who feel that the world doesn’t want them to succeed, Dan is for you. The captain of a coed NCAA Division 1 sports team, she faces both gender and race-based discrimination and hatred from athletic officials as well as fans, but refuses to let it get to her. Instead, she becomes an incredibly successful captain and player.
5. Samirah al-Abbas (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan)
Despite the fact that Magnus Chase is a children’s series, its characters can still serve as inspiration for adults. Sam manages to navigate the complex world of Ancient Norse mythology and the responsibilities of being part of that world while dealing with the systematic oppression that Muslim Americans, and specifically Muslim American women, face in modern society. She also does all of this while keeping perfect grades with the intention of going to college to become a doctor.
6. Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah)
The Rossignol sisters are inseparable, so there’s no use in picking just one for this list. Vianne and Isabelle show that there’s no one right way to be a strong woman: while both of them participate in the French resistance during World War II, they do so in vastly different ways, and illustrate that it’s possible to have an impact on the world without sticking to one standard path. Remember this on days when you feel like your major isn’t as impactful as others, or that there’s no place for your degree in the current world.
7. Aelin Ashryver Galathynius (Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas)
Aelin is a great role model for women who feel that college is forcing them to choose between various elements of their identity. Aelin shows that it’s possible to be strong and ferocious while still being feminine, and that being feminine doesn’t mean being weak. She also provides a healthy example of a woman who isn’t afraid to have multiple sexual and romantic partners over the course of her life, something that’s incredible important for young women who feel that their romantic and sexual lives are dictated by outside society rather than by themselves.
8. Emi Price (Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour)
Emi is dedicated to her dream of becoming a film set designer, and manages a busy high school schedule while working on film sets. She refuses to let obstacles deter her from this, and is committed to getting her education even when job opportunities present themselves that would let her do otherwise. She’s also an excellent example of a successful lesbian in the entertainment industry, whose sexuality is simply a part of her identity instead of something that inhibits her.
9. Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
This one’s a bit obvious, but it’s impossible to talk about inspirational female characters without mentioning someone as classic as Hermione. For every woman who feels like they have to dumb themselves down to gain the approval of their peers or their professors because an intelligent and confident woman is often seen as a threat, remember that Hermione was never afraid to show that she was smarter than every boy in every one of her classes.
10. Layla Bayat (Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta)
A successful lawyer, Layla represents the potential for Muslim women and women of color to advance in professional fields that have barriers in place designed to prevent them from doing so. She navigates professional and personal issues, and shows that it’s possible to prioritize your culture, your family and personal beliefs while still becoming a successful professional.
11. Elisa of Joya D'Arena (The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson)
Elisa is there for every college woman who feels that they aren’t living up to society’s beauty standards. She’s a strong and powerful ruler, who navigates complicated political and religious environments to help her country, and does it all as a plus-sized Latina woman. She is also an example of how to balance professional and religious life, great for students unsure of how to balance school and their religion.
The road to success is paved with countless obstacles for college-women, but hopefully reading about some strong women who handle impossible circumstances and skill come out alive on the other end will inspire you to keep pushing. Remember, different people experience different barriers based on who they are, so make sure to look up from your lane once in a while to check on how everyone else is doing. Don’t be afraid to lend a hand if it’s needed, and good luck.
Lead Image Credit: Jamie Taylor via Unsplash