Class of 2014 Success Stories: An Advocate for Social Justice
Alexandra Lahey pursues changes
By Kathleen Lawry
The world as Alexandra Lahey knew it was flipped upside down four years ago when she started out as a freshman majoring in human development and family studies and found herself engaged in issues she hadn’t realized she cared about. That experience sparked her ultimate pursuit in life – social and political change.
The summa cum laude graduate has been working tirelessly ever since, educating herself on issues and doing social organizing to help others become culturally aware and empathetic. Her two minors, in sexuality studies and popular culture, reflect the breadth of her interests.
“I wanted to continue learning; I was just sort of a sponge because it was all so fascinating to me. I felt there wasn’t enough for me to learn so I expanded my knowledge outside the classroom, too,” she explained.
Her dedication has led to her being named the Outstanding Senior in Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Education and Human Development, and a finalist for the same award from the BGSU Alumni Association.
Her sophomore year, Lahey joined the student group Feminist Organization Raising Consciousness and Empowerment (FORCE), and served as president this year. When she graduated she wore the cap passed down from the two previous FORCE presidents.
She also started volunteering at the Cocoon Shelter, which provides safety, healing and justice for battered women and children. The two-year volunteer position developed into a part-time advocate role this year, which contextualized a lot of the advocacy work she performs.
“I can sit in a classroom and learn a lot, but when I’m actually out in the field learning about oppression and seeing how oppression impacts people’s lives it becomes much more real and my passion grows from it,” she said.
In addition to her advocacy work, Lahey took on undergraduate teaching and research assistant positions her junior year. Through this work, she brainstormed a research topic, “The Impact of Women’s Magazines on College Students’ Perceptions of Sexual Relationships,” which she pitched to fellow classmate Chelsea Standley and Dr. Laura Landry-Meyer, an associate professor of family and consumer sciences.
Lahey and Standley received funding from the BGSU Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship to pursue their study. The pair was awarded Best Undergraduate Project/Presentation at the 2013 Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Research Symposium, and were invited to present at the state capitol and the BGSU Undergraduate Research Symposium. She had the opportunity speak about her campus organizing and represent BGSU at the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Young Feminist Leadership Conference as an invited speaker.
Though her goal is for her research to be published, Lahey feels the process and experience are just as critical as the result. “Learning how to engage people in research and making it accessible is a very important to me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do practical research that gives young people tools to navigate media in their adolescent lives.”
A passionate advocate for social justice, Lahey has been networking at presentations and professional development events, and it’s landed her a position as a student journalist with Choice USA, and a fellowship with Young People For (YP4), a long-term leadership development initiative that identifies, engages and empowers the newest generation of progressive leaders.
Choice USA gives emerging leaders the tools they need to organize, network and exchange ideas to build a youth-centered pro-choice agenda and mobilize communities for reproductive health freedom. Since July, she has been writing blog posts and researching and composing stories about local, state and national policies.
A mentor of hers at Choice USA nominated Lahey for a fellowship with YP4 her senior year. Only 150 fellows are chosen nationwide each year, and Lahey is the first BGSU student to earn this honor.
With the help of a mentor, she developed an individual leadership plan as well as a “Blueprint for Social Justice,” a collaborative plan of action to create meaningful progressive social change that directly impacts the community.
As if all these activities weren’t enough, Lahey is also completing an internship with the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) Tech Trek at BGSU, a camp designed for eighth-grade girls to help them remain engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The participants get a taste for what it’s like to be on a college campus and are taught only by women, “so that way they can connect with those role models and see women doing STEM,” Lahey explained. She believes the work she has done with Tech Trek ties together all of her other experiences and has given her fundamental skills in organizing and fundraising. The Ohio division of AAUW recognized Lahey’s efforts, naming her the “Breaking through the Barriers Award” winner for 2014.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see what other young people are doing throughout the country and learn from them,” Lahey said. “I think it’s so important for young people to mentor and learn from each other.”
Because of her experience with YP4 and her belief that she didn’t just stumble into these positions but rather purposefully built connections, Lahey in turn nominated three BGSU students for fellowships next year: Luke Grabski (Vision), Gregory Harrison (Black Student Union) and Candace Roane (FORCE). In partnering with these different groups on campus, Lahey has seen firsthand how students have become concerned and involved on BGSU’s campus.
“It’s just really about engaging people on the issues they care about,” she said. In fact, that’s what happened to Lahey four years earlier — someone engaged her in issues she didn’t even realized she cared about.
“I feel really comfortable with who I am now and the journey I’ve been on through BGSU. I think I always had the passion, but was waiting for it to come out in college,” she said. “Even when I’m not working and am supposed to be relaxing, I’m still sitting on blogs and reading about social justice. It’s just who I am, it’s through me.”
Learning of her passion and cultivating it the last four years has set this outstanding senior up for a bright future.
She has been accepted into the University of Kentucky master’s and doctoral program in family sciences with a focus on adolescent sexuality. Lahey is torn between her love for academia and research and her love for social organization. Luckily for Lahey, she doesn’t have to decide — it never has to be exclusively one over the other when in pursuit of social and political change.