For Leigh Friar, Alison Piepmeier has always been a game changer.
It started the moment Friar stepped on the College of Charleston campus in 2012.
“I wanted to go into the hard sciences because I believed that objectivity was the answer to every question,” says Friar, whose commitment to studying biology began on the Friar family’s small farm on Johns Island, South Carolina, and ended in the office of Alison Piepmeier, a professor of English and women’s and gender studies.
“When I asked her what it meant to study in women’s and gender studies, she told me it was about questioning and challenging the perceived objectivity of academia and creating space for activism,” says Friar.
Friar declared a women’s and gender studies major the very next day.
“Dr. Piepmeier had a significant influence on me – not only on my academic career but on my personal growth,” says Friar.
The senior currently works full time with People Against Rape as a sexual assault survivor advocate, My Sister’s House as a crisis line advocate and Girls Rock Charleston as a volunteer organizer. Friar also raised money for survivors of partner violence for the Southern Poverty Law Center and started a support group for the parents of trans and gender non-conforming children for We Are Family, all while at the College.
“These organizations have not only allowed me to see the practical application of my academic studies but to give back to my community,” says Friar.
They’ve also allowed Friar to realize Piepmeier’s inspiring legacy.
Piepmeier, who created the College’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program and directed the program for over a decade, passed away last December after a six-year struggle with brain cancer. She was a beloved activist, advocate, mentor, mother and friend, and her legacy lives on through the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship. Friar is the first recipient of that scholarship.
Founded a week after Piepmeier’s passing, the scholarship will be awarded annually to a full-time student majoring or minoring in women’s and gender studies who has demonstrated a record of feminist activism and leadership.
Friar certainly is deserving of this award. And, with plans to continue gender and sexuality studies at the graduate level, Friar hopes to get a Ph.D. in social work and to teach and inspire others, just as Piepmeier did.
“I watched as Dr. Piepmeier inspired students to unapologetically carve out space for themselves,” says Friar. “I want to focus my teaching career on ethics in social work and intersectionality in academia.”
And that is how you become a game changer.