November 21, 2013

Alumni Profile: Karen Taylor BA ’13

Meet Karen Taylor BA ’13, an ethnic studies major.
Karen Taylor BA ’13

Major: ethnic studies
Hometown: Appleton, Wisconsin 

What drew you to attend Lewis & Clark?

I was originally drawn to Lewis & Clark because I think the school tries to challenge students and staff to think globally. The first thing to catch my eye was its rich and wide-reaching study abroad programs; Lewis & Clark engages a huge portion of its students in international study. I wanted to be around people who were excited about that opportunity. 

How did you become involved with the Ethnic Studies Program?

I became interested in ethnic studies my first year in a class titled Black and Latino Pop Culture with a visiting professor. Before that class, I had no clue what ethnic studies was! I continued to study issues of race and identity through a couple of classes about Latin America. I decided to design my own major and really pursue this path at the end of sophomore year. To me, ethnic studies is an incredible arena to talk about all of these overlapping issues—from cultural identities to history, from national policies to art. Ethnic studies also requires people to think about their personal backgrounds and to regularly challenge their own knowledge. I didn’t think that any other major could really encompass all these things that I wanted to think critically about. 

What was your most memorable moment at Lewis & Clark?

One of my most memorable moments was in New Mexico on an alternative spring break trip with what is now Student Leadership and Service. The trip focused on inequalities in education on Native American reservations, and we had the chance to help out in classrooms. In one of the high schools, we had a circle discussion with a group of students, some of whom were very open about their personal lives. Many of them spoke about the generational divide between youth culture and the lifestyles of their parents and grandparents on the reservation. Something about that conversation deeply impacted me. I still trace my passion for education to that New Mexico trip. 

Were there any formative experiences, courses, or faculty that helped to shape your current path?

Professor Elliott Young taught me and one other student in a colloquium class that explored immigration policies, migration of peoples in the United States, and freedom and incarceration. I felt deeply affected by the books we read because they completely transformed the way I think about politics, history, and economics in the United States. Now I read about current issues with what I think is a much more grounded and critical lens.

The chance to make my own major was also a profound experience. I’ve always thought it was important for students to grab the reigns and figure out what their education means to them. A number of incredible professors astounded me with how helpful and willing they were to hear me out and give me feedback—even professors with whom I hadn’t taken a class before. 

What do you think makes Lewis & Clark special?

I found that Lewis & Clark students challenge each other to become bigger thinkers and more critically minded students. At the same time, they also collaborate rather than compete. They support each other through hard work and they want to be well-rounded students. To me, that makes Lewis & Clark a unique school. I found my peers there to be open hearted, committed, and constantly questioning the world around them. 

How does Lewis & Clark cultivate leadership qualities in its students?

I think Lewis & Clark students and staff strive to cultivate an environment where new opportunities are actually accessible. People don’t just go to Lewis & Clark to “find their niche;” rather, they go there to explore all their very different, very possible niches, and figure out they’re competent in ways they never imagined. People who never knew they could sing end up arranging music for their a cappella group. Women and men who never thought about issues of gender before end up presenting their gender studies work at a symposium. At Lewis & Clark, I had the opportunity to lead two service trips, which turned out to be an essential resume builder for me. Since it is a small community, there are an overwhelming number of spaces for students to step up and lead. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say to current or future Lewis & Clark students?

This is a message that I heard from past students and one I hope echoes to all future students: what you put into your education is what you will get out of it. Put yourself on the line and start a student group where you think we need one. Meet with faculty and administration about curriculum you want to see changed. College is not just a place to cultivate gifts you already have—it’s a place to push your own boundaries and fill up your days with new and challenging things.

Ethnic Studies Program