What have you been up to since graduating?
After I graduated, I went on to the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. I was in a cohort focused on youth development and community organization. I knew upon leaving grad school I wanted to work directly with young people in a way that could contribute to their individual development and support community and systems change. After I got my MSW, I had the opportunity to work for a Chicago non-profit, Umoja, which partners with Chicago Public Schools to implement Restorative Justice practices. To me, restorative justice in schools is a call to not only find punitive discipline alternatives that keep students out of the school-to-prison system, but also to create spaces of healing and trauma-informed schools. In my role, I facilitated restorative practices with students and worked with teachers, security, and administration to increase their capacity to do restorative practices and shape school-wide culture. After almost three years in Chicago, my partner and I were ready for a change–more specifically, mountains. I moved to Boulder, Colorado this past fall and am now implementing Restorative Justice within Boulder County’s District Attorney’s Office. Implementing restorative justice within the criminal justice system has helped me reflect on what it can look like to change the school-to-prison pipeline from within the criminal system. Since my move, I have also been lucky to be outside as much as possible, exploring Colorado.
Why did you decide to major in WS?
I came to Michigan pretty sure I wanted to major in Psychology, and took Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies with Liz Cole at the end of my freshmen year because I was interested in social justice and feminism. The class resonated deeply with me. It simultaneously challenged me to think differently while also naming and validating how I had experienced the world. I knew I wanted to take more courses, so I declared a double major with Women’s and Gender Studies by the end of that semester. From then on, Women’s and Gender Studies always felt like my “home” major.
How have your experiences from WGS helped shape you personally or professionally?
Women’s and Gender Studies gave me a lens to examine the world with a critical eye and deeply engage in my own education. I began asking myself how I knew what I thought I knew and questioned how knowledge was shaped. I developed an understanding of myself in relation to systems of oppression, privilege, and power. I also became a better writer, public speaker, and facilitator from Women’s and Gender Studies.
You were involved with the Open Housing Initiative while at Michigan–tell us more about that.
The Open Housing Initiative was a student-led coalition on campus that increased fair housing options for students living in University Housing, especially those who identified as LGBTQ. I joined the initiative as a freshmen and then chaired the group my junior and senior years. Before the Open Housing Initiative, the U of M policy required students to identify as male or female to be placed with a roommate (and that roommate would have to be the same sex). For students who identified as transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming, and who chose not to identify as male or female, the only option was to live in a single in the Northwood apartments. The Open Housing Initiative worked with the Spectrum Center and other stakeholders to create a proposal to address this issue. By 2013, we had created a clear path for students to apply for housing within Michigan Residence Halls with a roommate of their choice, and/or be placed with a roommate they would be comfortable with regardless of gender. Additionally, a Gender Inclusive Living Experience was established as an intentional community within university housing for students. It was great to advocate for something over the course of my time at Michigan and see a concrete change made because of our work.
What advice do you have for current WGS students?
If you are not already, get involved in a group you care about. Women’s and Gender Studies classes helped me develop a thoughtful critique of what needs to be different in our world, but it was outside the classroom that I got an education on how to create that change. Additionally, for me, the time I spent as an undergraduate in spaces solely committed to raising awareness never felt as satisfying as the time spent working with others to change oppressive policies or implement programs. This isn’t to say raising awareness around issues isn’t worthwhile, but I would also seek spaces focused on developing plans to support people moving towards action together.
Any favorite memories from your time in WGS (or at Michigan in general)?
I really valued writing an honors thesis in Women’s and Gender Studies. I had full autonomy to explore, develop, and implement a study about a topic I found exciting. The experience not only taught me how to manage a long-term project, but also a lot about myself as a writer and researcher. I also felt very connected and supported by my fellow cohort members. My favorite memories at Michigan, though, involved being with my friends. I was lucky to be part of a very funny and caring group of people; many of them remain my best friends to this day.
Posted January 29, 2018