My name is Fia Walklet, and I am currently a second-semester senior at Lesley University studying English Literature and Women’s Gender & Sexuality studies. Consider this my formal introduction to you all as both one of Lesley’s impassioned student gender advocates and, more pertinently, the new intern for Lesley’s very own Violence against Women Initiative.
As part of my new role, I will be conducting a series of interviews with staff and individuals affiliated with Lesley University to see how our community is tackling national and transnational epidemics of violence against women, all through an interdisciplinary lens. To better familiarize you all with what to expect from these pieces, while introducing myself as a new member of this initiative, I want to share my own advocacy efforts. Although my story is my own, it's also a reflection of every encounter, course, or conversation I’ve shared with countless other gender advocates, students, and professors, on and off this campus. So, thank you. You are in this story, too.
My story at Lesley begins with “Girlhood, Identity & Girl Culture,” an upper-level sociological course with a community engagement component. I enrolled in the course the first opportunity I had, only to be completely blown away by the course and its complementary project, The Girlhood Project. However, our semester coincided with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which abruptly forced us to resume, or more appropriately, reimagine the course online in a matter of weeks. I was approached at the end of the semester to co-write my first scholarly article for a peer-reviewed journal on the implications of COVID-19 on feminist pedagogy and how an online world influences the lives of, and consequently our work with, girls. After our article was published in December of 2020, I then remained with The Project as an intern, where my passion project explored Zines as disruptive mediums of activism. After researching the historical applications of Zines, I created The Girlhood Project’s first girl-curated and girl-centered Zine of its own—Girlhood Pulp. The Zine subverted mainstream, print-media’s de-centering of marginalized identities through self-celebration and artistic expression.
I was then able to continue my advocacy efforts at a new place of employment, this time an internship outside of the Lesley community. I was immediately captivated by my new company’s concern for the non-commercial sector, allocating equal space to purpose and community-based projects. I grew increasingly familiar with that side of the professional world, formally researching both gender-based advocacy and oppositional discourse online in the Pacific Islands. I took the scary yet gratifying leap from community-based activism to applying my knowledge and scholarship for global advocacy efforts.
The rhetoric I researched aimed to use the online world—a world from which so many of us now find ourselves inseparable—to better understand the needs of, and issues facing, women in urban and rural communities in countries like Samoa or Tonga. In my preliminary research, I came to recognize local, infrastructural shortcomings compounding rates of violence against women, albeit environmental events, gendered cultural norms, or policy failures. However, it was the testimonies of women and gender minorities in these countries that brought all the frameworks, discourse, and theory to life: online testimonies of violence, victim-blaming, police distrust, disproportionate prosecution rates, and fear—above all else, fear—consumed my days. Even worse, the oppositional discourse, in which users threatened advocates, dehumanized victims, and spoke freely of their anti-women agendas, shook me to my core. How often and easily they posted, while I know so many women’s experiences were missing in the conversation online perhaps due to shame, fear of disclosure, or the very violence that we, here, are seeking to prevent.
My experience working with a global organization in an effort to protect vulnerable women and groups transnationally was more than just emotional: It was actionable. My research helped generate insights on how local service providers and non-governmental organizations can reach victims to provide undisrupted and accessible support and care, especially during COVID-19. Our conversations with local representatives illuminated the pressing consequences of climate change and how it intersects with violence against women. Data analyses communicated a collective and community-wide desire for radical change to protect women from gender-based oppression and abuse.
To me, my experience in this role, as well as the many other efforts that preceded it, solidified my journey into the professional world of gender-based advocacy. My experiences and privilege have allowed me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and solidify my passion and purpose: to ensure women everywhere are no longer subjected to violence of all forms. I look forward to growing and learning even more in this new phase of my journey with the Violence against Women Initiative and sharing with you the stories of other community members who, too, have been fueled by their devotion to gender equity throughout the years.
More to come,