As my junior year wraps up and I enter my last year as an undergraduate, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my time as a student at Iowa State. After a bit of thinking, I’ve realized I have learned the most not from my classes, but from my experiences outside of the classroom. I can say without a doubt that I have personally grown and gained the most by way of my extracurricular involvement.
I encourage you to get involved. I don’t advocate involvement because of the typical reasons you hear from your advisors and parents- not for reasons such as improving your resume, learning skills valuable to your future career, or learning time management and organization strategies. Though all valuable skills, I have chosen to advocate involvement because through my extracurricular experiences, I have had the privilege of meeting an individual who has contributed more to my personal growth, maturing, and general passion for life than I could have ever found in a classroom or textbook.
I’ve volunteered at the Women’s Center since I’ve been a student at Iowa State. I love the atmosphere, the passion, the people- I have since I started. I’ve always identified as a feminist and enjoyed reading and learning about feminist causes. However, this year I have went through a definite personal transformation.
After taking many social-justice related classes and being involved with many extracurricular organizations and committees related to social justice, lobbying, writing letters to representatives and attending public forums and rallies, my education was beginning to hit me full-circle. I was beginning to realize I wasn’t the same person I was when I began my time at Iowa State. It struck me at once; I had done a whole lot of growing up in a very short period of time. I had finally begun to realize I didn’t see the world around me the same way I had when I first came to Iowa State.
This realization came with some troubling implications. I had realized my friends from high school and the friends I had chosen my freshmen year at Iowa State no longer got me, hell I didn’t even get me; but I knew we no longer saw the world through the same lens. I saw their eyes glaze over when I talked about issues that were important to me. I was hurt when they wouldn’t attend an event I had worked on all of first semester. I was frustrated when I’d have to listen to them talk about “how disgusting that gay couple on Grey’s Anatomy is”. When I brought up aspirations of going into politics, they “couldn’t see me being elected for something”. As I grew as an individual and found out who I was, I was realizing the social circles I had aligned myself with when I was younger and when I first arrived at Iowa State no longer aligned with me in the way they once had. Feeling misunderstood and frustrated, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, where I volunteer, has been my haven since the beginning of the year. It was a place I could go where I knew I could find an incredible sense of community and understanding that is unmatched by anything else. In particular, I found Liz.
I met Liz, a graduate assistant at the Women’s Center, at the beginning of Fall semester this year when she first started her assistantship at the Women’s Center at the beginning of her second year in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program, or ELPS. Though I connect with literally everyone at the Women’s Center, I immediately felt an alignment with Liz that was unmatched by anyone else- and I know I’m not the only student to feel this way. Liz and I began our ongoing conversation around feminism and social justice when we were outraged by an article published in this paper written by RJ Green, entitled Sexy Things You Care About; from there, the conversation continues.
Through my year of self-discovery, perhaps what I’ve learned most about is what I am capable of as a person. I truly have Liz to thank for that. Being socially aware is mentally exhausting; I believe that’s why most people choose to ignore the issues our society face today. Often frustrated and feeling as if change was impossible, Liz has taught me to believe in myself and in the possibility of social change through my own personal actions.
All year, I had strangers telling me I was ridiculous for spending my weekends in Madison protesting. I could get strangers to lobby before my own friends would. I had classmates tell me that I was wasting my time. I had friends constantly questioning my reasoning and logic for actually giving a shit about social justice. This was my reality- I faced criticism, questioning, or apathy regarding my passions every day of my life. Liz has given me the confidence and optimism to truly face these criticisms.
I’d like to say I didn’t need affirmation from anyone. I’d like to say I’ve been self-assured enough this whole year to pursue social change without affirmation in the face of criticism, hate mail, complaints, and disagreements. However, as I’ve just recently realized, Liz was the exact person I needed to get me through this phase of uncertainty and growth. I needed someone to tell me they saw something in me, because I wasn’t sure that I saw that much potential in myself. I needed someone to tell me what I was doing was making a difference, because running on two hours of sleep and trying to stay awake to catch up on the latest bill attacking planned parenthood can be flat out hard to do. I needed someone who I knew saw eye-to-eye with me, because after a full day of having your best friends question you for the sake of argument, your professors using “rape” as a verb in lecture, your grandparents defining success for you as finding a “good husband”, your friend getting sexually assaulted, and a random stranger commenting on the physique of your legs or some other body part, sometimes I just needed a little old-fashioned venting time and support from a person who completely understood me.
Though I’ve only known Liz a year, she entered my life at exactly the right time. I’ll miss her upon her graduation (congratulations!), but she’s leaving my life at the right time as well. I’ve gained confidence, hope, knowledge, and optimism for the future. Because of Liz, I now fully understand my own potential as an activist, the potential of others, and the potential for social change.
Students, get involved- whatever it is that happens to make you tick. No matter what it is, I promise there’s someone on campus that completely gets you. You never know who or what you’ll find that could change your life for the better.
Liz, I’d like to thank you- you’ve got big things in student affairs ahead of you. I know you’ve touched my, as well as many other students’ lives. It is my hope that every student gets involves and finds someone/something that assists in their personal growth as much as you have mine.
Iowa State University | Sociology and Philosophy