A social justice protagonist

During her time at UW, English major Lauren Gonitzke has gone from reading about the world to working to change it.

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Photo by Sarah Morton, College of Letters & Science

Lauren Gonitzke remembers her first life-changing class at UW-Madison. 

It was fall of her sophomore year and the newly declared English major was enrolled in Leslie Bow’s Asian American Women Writers course. While it was hardly a small seminar, students sat in a giant circle, an arrangement that fostered rich discussions about books.

Gonitzke didn’t love every work of literature they read, but she respected how Bow teased out something to appreciate in each. “I was amazed at the lessons that could be learned from stories,” she says, adding that the course inspired her to continue exploring through books.

“The literature classes I have taken really expanded my worldview,” she says. “Through literature, I can ask and explore larger questions, such as what it means to be a woman of color, or the roles culture and family play in identity.”

This past fall, the senior from Eagle River, Wisconsin, found herself in another impactful class: a queer literature course by Ramzi Fawaz. In it, Gonitzke discovered the power in understanding the time and place in which literature is written. 

“A lot of people take literature out of its context and put it in its own little bubble,” she says. With awareness of a writer’s world — his or her environment, point in history, personal or societal concerns — the words come alive in new ways and allow for more transformative learning. 

“I read about and from the perspectives of different people,” she says. “I am mindfully thinking outside my own existence about the world and people with experiences similar and dissimilar to my own.”

I used to want to change the world through my writing, because writing can touch people across distance and time. But I have since realized that I can work toward change right now.” 

For Gonitzke — who is working toward certificates in Asian American Studies and Chinese Professional Communication and is the recipient of the Thomas W. Parker scholarship, awarded to high-achieving students majoring in the humanities or social sciences — time at UW has also awoken a passion for activism.

As part of the Student Labor Action Coalition, she’s taken part in marches and demonstrations, and worked on labor justice and other social justice campaigns on campus. She’s fueled by immediacy of activism and empowered by its potential to make structural change in the world.

“I used to want to change the world through my writing, because writing can touch people across distance and time,” she says. “But I have since realized that I can work toward change right now.” 

Tag: English