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Historical Knowledge in Student Involvement

December 9, 2015

Portrait: Alyssa Martin

Portrait: Alyssa Martin
Photo by Jack Swift, CLAgency student

When she decided to come to the University of Minnesota, senior Alyssa Martin knew she wanted to study creative writing with an English major. But then, as so often happens to college students, a new love turned her head.

“I immediately loved history, just like I loved English,” Alyssa says. “It amazed me how much you can immerse yourself in a discipline like history and dig deeper and learn about people’s motivations, asking questions like why were they thinking that way and what justified ideologies at the time.” By the end of her freshman year, Alyssa had declared her double major and was eager to dive into the past through her writing and studies.

Alyssa has been actively involved on campus beyond her coursework and has made a difference for students who may need it most. “I really care about women’s issues and women’s rights,” she says. “Not only that, but I also care about gender and disability rights.” As a violence prevention educator with the Aurora Center, Alyssa gives presentations around campus about consent, sexual assault, and relationship violence. Additionally, she is a mentor to several freshmen in the University honors program, and is a student access assistant at the Disability Resource Center.

Alyssa found a unique way outside of the classroom to commentate on social justice issues by becoming a volunteer blogger for the University of Minnesota Women’s Center. Since last spring she has contributed a dozen articles that combine both her strengths in history and English by writing pieces about feminism, race, and disability and gender rights. “My main goal is to erase social stigma from certain things like disability rights or women's rights,” she says.

Her experiences as an advocate for the Aurora Center and blogger for the Women’s Center have both been influenced by her insightful historic perspective. Alyssa explained, “I'm always interested in why we believe what we do about women's sexuality, and the advocacy work I do fights against these often misguided beliefs society still has; however, I find putting these modern misconceptions about women's sexuality in a historical context is the best way to educate others about why they hold certain beliefs regarding women's sexuality and women in general.”

For her major paper, Alyssa is researching Magdalene Laundries and how philanthropic, middle class women participated in housing "wayward girls" in these institutions. She explained, “It's a moment when two opposing ideas, the empowerment of women in public life and the oppression of other women because of their engagement in public life, come together and inform the relationship between these women at this time. This extraordinary contradiction greatly fascinates me, and I find that this contradiction is still apparent today.”

After graduating in the spring, Alyssa has plans to attend graduate school with a program in gender studies and eventually become a professor. “The most important thing I’ve realized while earning my degree in CLA,” she says, “is that we as a society have a better chance of changing social injustices if we understand their historic origins and the current impact these injustices have.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.