Mogul: What inspired you to start Rise?
Amanda Nguyen: I made the decision to start Rise at a very specific moment. I had been struggling to understand the labyrinth of laws and felt isolated by the Massachusetts criminal justice system. But as I watched the waiting room in my local rape crisis center fill, I realized this experience wasn’t mine alone. It became clear to me that I had a choice: I could either accept the injustice, or rewrite the law. I chose the latter. I started Rise because of a deep, fundamental belief in our democracy and collective ability to create change. That belief helped me get these laws through Congress. I believe in people using their voices for something good, and I was brought up believing that this is what America is about.
Mogul: It's an incredible accomplishment to have passed the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights. Can you walk us through how you navigated the legislative process?
AN: I actually started with an email. When I realized I wanted to change Massachusetts’ laws, I emailed everyone I knew telling them my story and why I wanted to do something. The response was enormous. People wrote back and said, “Hey, how can I help?” That email and those responses were the beginning of our coalition building process that is a core foundation of Rise today. We work to find a common ground, making sure the system is fair for all stakeholders at the table. It requires a lot of tactfulness and negotiating, especially since it is so charged with personal trauma. But through coalition building and dedicated volunteers, we can navigate legislative processes and guarantee survivors their civil rights. I’ve developed an organizing theory called “Hope-a-nomics” in which Risers are trained with on how to navigate the legislative process.
Mogul: Where do you envision Rise heading in the next few years?
AN: In the next few years, Rise is aiming to pass the Survivors’ Bill of Rights in all 50 states and with 12 laws passed in a year, we’re well on our way to reaching this goal. We also want to expand Rise into a global movement, because no survivor, no matter where they live, deserves to face injustice. We’re bringing our model of hope to the UN to pass a resolution guaranteeing survivors civil rights worldwide.
Mogul: What is your ultimate dream for the organization?
AN: The ultimate dream for Rise is end sexual violence. But equally importantly, as we’re bringing about this model of hope, we’ve seen how millennials can scale change and incubate civil rights campaigns. One of the most powerful things that came out of the federal campaign was hope. I believe that there is never a more convenient season to create change, but I think we’re in an unprecedented time for activism, and that’s not particular to any political party. In this age of social media, I believe that people—especially young people—have a greater sense of the global community. We want our training model of Hope-a-nomics to spread as millennials fight to reshape the future.
Mogul: Do you feel like you have fully healed emotionally following being sexually assaulted?
AN: Everyone heals in their own way. But I do find self-care in the work we do for Rise, working to create and codify laws for fellow survivors. I also have a telescope, and when I get stressed I planet hunt. That means astrophysics is another way I engage in self-care, which sounds super nerdy. But looking at the stars reminds me to take a breath. There’s something called the “overview effect,” which is a cognitive psychological shift that’s been documented in many astronauts when they see our home planet as a pale blue dot in the vast darkness, it creates a sense of awe. Astronauts who leave as technicians often come back as humanitarians, with a renewed or greater sense of a global community. Looking through my telescope helps put me in that mindset.
Mogul: What would you like to say to those who have recently been assaulted?
AN: I hear you. I hear you and I see you and I understand. There are so many people who are survivors, who share these experiences - there are 25 million rape survivors in America alone, 1.3 billion worldwide. You are not alone. And there is no wrong way to feel, no wrong way to share your story. Find what can bring you joy. I think of my self-care life a meal: there’s appetizers and main courses. Appetizers are small things I can do for myself, a moment of meditation, decorating my desk, taking care of my succulents. Main courses are big self-care things, like a trip to Disney for my birthday, treating myself to my favorite restaurant, or putting a ball pit in my office. There is no linear path to healing, but there are always things that can help you along the way.
Mogul: What are your thoughts regarding the Harvey Weinstein case? Do you predict this controversy will change Hollywood culture for the long-term?
AN: Harvey Weinstein is deplorable. But thanks to the women who have spoken about the abuse they faced at his hands, I think good things are happening. Over 50 women have spoken out, restarting the #MeToo campaign on social media, and providing voices to survivors who felt alone and isolated. Rise just had a major victory in California, with Governor Jerry Brown passing our most comprehensive Survivors’ Bill of Rights yet, codifying civil rights for 11 million survivors. We’ve shown again how hope and dedication can change laws for the better. It’s incredibly important we all get involved, lending our voices and our time to ending sexual violence.
Mogul: What are your hobbies outside of work?
AN: I’ve already talked about how much I love space, but I try to go to rocket launches and stay engaged with the space community. I love art, especially Frida Kahlo. It always inspires me how she turned her pain into something so beautiful. I paint and draw in my free time, and try to go to art exhibits when I can while traveling. And I love food!
Mogul: It's so neat that you studied astrophysics. Are you still involved with astronomy and the NASA community?
AN: I mentioned my telescope before, and every time I look through its lens I’m reminded that space and the NASA community will always be there for me. When I first was thinking about starting Rise, I was conflicted. I knew these rights were absolutely imperative, but it has always been my dream to go to space. I turned to my mentor, Leland Melvin, and asked him what I should do, and I’ll never forget his response. He told me space will always be there, long past our lives, but changing our present was something I can do now. Leland has been endlessly supportive, and just recently came out as a survivor himself.
Mogul: What is your advice to those who wish to follow in your footsteps, whether it be attending an Ivy League school or being an entrepreneur?
AN: Be authentic! Don’t let people label you, don’t feel like you have to do something safe. A lot of my friends went into consulting or Wall Street after graduation because that's what was prestigious. They delayed their own dreams to meet other people’s expectations. And when you do that, you’re betting against yourself. It’s ok to do that if that’s what you're passionate about or if you want to gain stability and skill sets. But if you really want to do something else - go do it. You’re young, take a risk, go do what you love. Passion is contagious! If you’re passionate about it, other people will be too.
Amanda is the CEO and founder of Rise, a national nonprofit working to implement a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights. After Nguyen’s rape kit was on the verge of destruction after only six months of retention, she decided to create a Sexual Assault Bill of Rights, not just for her own [...]