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Catherine Kruse '11

English Major, Women and Gender Studies Minor

All of my life, I have lived among strong women leaders. Between strong women in my own family, my best friends from high school, and the teacher who let me know that it was ok to be a feminist and a Republican, I have been extremely blessed. When I came to Washington and Lee straight out of a private, Catholic young women's high school, I of course immediately sought strong women to attach myself to and learn from in a college environment. Frankly, I didn't have to look far.

The most inspiring week of my college career and possibly my life was Love Your Body Week, sponsored by KEWL (Knowledge Empowering Women Leaders) last year. Problems such as sexual assault and eating disorders are still painfully prevalent on most college campuses, and as a competitive college environment, W&L has had its fair share of concerns. During the event, we voiced many concerns experienced by women at W&L and on a national college level with posters, life-size foam cutouts, and flyers around campus. The event was unlike any other seen by Washington and Lee, but what has always stuck in my mind was the way in which so many women on campus were able to come together and express themselves. Members of different sororities, classes, and social groups came to make a poster, fill out a Post Secret card (displayed in the Commons), support the cause, and talk about problems that hurt women everywhere.

The event is significant to my college career and why I attend Washington and Lee because it demonstrated to me not only the importance of social activism for a cause you are passionate about, but also that W&L students care about other W&L students. Women came to support themselves, but they also came to support their friends and sisters on campus. As an "independent" (non-Greek) student, I have found that there are many ways to form close bonds with others that don't need to be formed in a sorority house, and Love Your Body Week epitomized that experience.

Being a part of KEWL and now serving as President has also given me the opportunity to expand upon and learn how to make an outlet for women outside of the Greek System (even if they are members of a sorority). We have organized activities such as Student-Faculty dinner, political forums on women's issues, and even bowling for independent students to make W&L an accessible and safe place for women to come, feel comfortable with themselves, and find their own potential for leadership. Before 1985, there were no opportunities for women students because there were no women on campus, and certainly the change is for the better. As a member of KEWL and a woman student, I really appreciate the opportunities that the school has given me to expand activities for women.

This ability to form meaningful connections based on a common cause does not stop with women students, however. While every major that I dabbled in before choosing English has shown support and understanding in classes, the Women's and Gender Studies Program feels like home to me. I love being able to choose different gender-related classes in different subject areas, which not only broadens my horizons, but forms new personal connections with professors that I would normally not come into contact with. For instance, I took a Development of Sexuality class last Spring Term in the Psychology Department and this semester ventured into a History of Women class that grounded my knowledge in chronological order. Not only are the classes generally taught on non-traditional subjects that make you think, but the professors are always open to further discussion in their offices and want to help you as much as possible.

When I came to W&L from high school, I sought out strong women to learn from, and their own experiences to use as a model for leadership. As a junior at W&L, I feel confident that one day my own stories might help other young women to lead, and that the combination of advice from professors with the strong friendships I have acquired from common passions and good laughs with other students are memories that I will have forever.