Lizzy Smith

Why did you choose Willamette—and why major in English?

Lots of reasons! Willamette’s small class sizes and gorgeous campus definitely attracted me. However, what caused me to choose and stay are the faculty and staff that I have been so unbelievably fortunate to know. Willamette is one of those places where asking how a person’s day is going is more than just a passing obligation. The kindness and compassion I’ve received from the community that I have found here has taught me more about open-mindedness, motivation, and social justice than I would have ever imagined.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to study English. I’ve always loved history, and I fell in love with English because the words and perspectives of writers provide history with personality, emotion, and depth.

You’re also doing coursework in American Ethnic Studies, right? How do you see that intersecting with your English major?

My Introduction to American Ethnic Studies class changed the entire focus of my English major. I came to college wanting to focus on American authors like Hemingway and Steinbeck—Of Mice and Men was my favorite book. After learning more about American Ethnic Studies, however, I found my passions in African American literature, postcolonial theory, and gender theory. Some of my favorite classes that I have taken have been Literature of the Diaspora: South Asia, and Contemporary Post-Slavery Fiction. Currently, I am really enjoying my class on Caribbean literature and its diaspora.

What campus activities are you involved in?

This year, I’m Co-Directing The Willamette Monologues, a feminist theater production that provides space for non-dominant identities on campus to discuss their personal narratives surrounding gender and sexuality. It’s an amazingly powerful show, and it’s been especially incredible to watch narratives similar to those I would study in a class come to life on stage.

I’m also Co-coordinator for Mosaics Multicultural Mentoring. Through my studies of African American Literature, I have learned much about the complexities surrounding multicultural identity formation within institutions of higher education. Mosaics has been a really great way for me to take this knowledge and put it into praxis. The club creates a peer-to-peer mentoring community that supports multicultural first-year students in their transition to university life.

Tell me about your study abroad experience.

I studied abroad in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, during the fall semester of my Junior year, and it absolutely changed my perspectives on so many aspects of life in general and here at Willamette. I attended Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which has an enormous student body and is surrounded by rich history. Many of my professors had been involved in the freedom struggles, and it was incredible listening to their tales of how different the very city we lived in had been. Studying abroad in South Africa also gave me a lot of perspective on what it means to be a citizen of the United States and the privileges that come along with that while traveling in different parts of the world.

What are your senior thesis plans?

I will be applying for an independent study to spend a semester critically analyzing Ntozake Shange’s black feminist choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enough. It is a complex, beautiful piece about the lives and experiences of African American women and the different ways that these women empower themselves despite systems of oppression. I am definitely looking forward to it!

What's the future got in store?

As of right now, I am thinking I will take a break from higher education and participate in a program like City Year or Teach for America. I have felt the call to become an educator since I was very young, and I believe these will be great second steps to get me on my way.