Student Perspective: Mothers and All

By Natasha Lemke, Student, The Evergreen State College–Tacoma

Historically, the idea of “women’s work” was relegated to the household. However, times have changed—both for the empowerment of women and, simultaneously, for their continued marginalization. A forty-hour work week is nonexistent for mothers navigating life on a single income, not to mention the amount of unpaid (and often unappreciated) labor that occurs outside of office hours. I am more than a student and more than a mother, teacher, caregiver, wife, and community volunteer. My work never ends—but the pursuit of education is necessary for human survival, especially for the poor. As James Baldwin said, “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”[1] So, if women are to continue to persist and fight against oppressive structures, we do not have the luxury to lack education.

The original intention of the liberal arts during the Roman era was to help people become more informed, active, and effective citizens. In a political climate that is currently thriving on inaccuracy, these skills are essential to our ability to survive and contribute to a more just society. I am proud to have received an interdisciplinary and humanistic education from the Evergreen State College–Tacoma. I could not have received a more culturally relevant, civic-minded education anywhere else in the country. In a program where the motto is “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” there is no confusion about each student’s purpose after graduation. The integrated and experiential learning style reminds us that we are not on a direct path. Looking for the ways subjects intersect is encouraged. We honor the fact that the world does not exist in a vacuum.

In order to be successful, students must be innovative. Andrew Boyd’s Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution reminds us that self and community actualization cannot be achieved without a little creativity. As I entered to learn as an Evergreen–Tacoma student, the book made me consider, How would I depart to serve? Boyd explains how: “Beautiful Trouble lays out the core tactics, principles and theoretical concepts that drive creative activism, providing analytical tools for changemakers to learn from their own successes and failures.”[2] I reached these conclusions while conducting qualitative research on behalf of the college as part of a think tank taskforce focused on strengthening the Tacoma program. I wanted to depart to serve by ensuring that the pathway to Evergreen–Tacoma was accessible for those coming behind me, for women that share much of my same story, and for the men that don’t realize that they too can be a part of what makes Tacoma resilient.

Resilience and Evergreen–Tacoma’s support helped get me through the end of my bachelor’s degree. I did not know how my studies would impact me and all my forms of work beyond the classroom. But, when my father had a stroke, I became his voice, his advocate, his on-command medical decision maker. Lucky for me, I studied circadian rhythms and Mozart as part of my interdisciplinary studies. Soothed by the piano arrangement of Piano Sonata no. 2 in C Major, I carefully watched over my father, his machines, and his nursing staff, following his symptoms as they related to my readings and previous knowledge on neurological processes. As a student, I learned to interrogate and question different texts and perspectives, and I treated my father’s condition no differently. I confidently advocated for his needs day in and day out. The nursing and doctoral staff on many occasions regarded me as “the daughter with a medical background” (which I did not have). I was just a well-rounded liberal arts student. If that is not bringing theory to practice, I don’t know what is.

I’m grateful that Evergreen–Tacoma knows its student base, and that it saw me in more ways than just a future employee or just a woman. It understands that, as students navigating diverse and complex working roles, we should see ourselves in the curriculum. The curriculum design at Evergreen–Tacoma extends students’ thinking beyond the texts and the classroom and, thanks to the commitment of Evergreen–Tacoma faculty, students are prepared to challenge oppressive systems that attempt to make intersectional identities like women and people of color invisible. Students are empowered to make a difference in their communities through their work, setting examples for generations to follow, mothers and all.

[1] James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (1974; repr., New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 149.

[2] Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell, Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution (New York: OR Books, 2016).