Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement.
For Lauren Pious, there’s no place quite like home. Still, as she puts it: “I have a very complex relationship with Chicago.”
Pious wasn’t particularly keen on hanging around her Southside neighborhood after high school graduation.
“Seeing and living in violence, poverty and constant trauma that occurs at home made me see Chicago as a bad place to be from,” she said. “My neighborhood specifically hasn't and still doesn't receive the help that it needs to be a better place for the people who live there.”
She also hates the cold, so going to college as far away as possible from Midwest winters was a no-brainer. Pious spent three years in Arizona sunshine, learning about “intersectionality and social justice issues related to the black community.” Now, she’s graduating from Arizona State University a year early and is ready to return to the Windy City, where she’ll attend graduate school and where she hopes to make a difference.
As they say, home is where the heart is.
Pious’s heart is also firmly at home in poetry and language, which is — thankfully — portable. Pious hopes to use her ASU bachelor’s degree in English (literature) and her minor in Mandarin Chinese to make inroads in areas of social importance, like cultural competency training and sexual violence prevention. She’ll do this via writing, volunteering and nonprofit work.
Pious’s ASU experience gave her many tools to use in this work. In addition to her academic pursuits, she was a sexual violence prevention peer educator through the Sun Devil Support Network (SDSN). The network, administratively situated within Educational Outreach & Student Services, is a “group of students who provide ASU community members with support, information and resources related to incidents of sexual violence.” All peer educators like Pious go through 15-20 hours of training.
“I want to take what I've learned at ASU to be a resource and a change-maker for my community,” she said. “But I'm nervous because there's a lot to be done and [it] will require a lot of collaboration for it to work. I just have a lot of hopes for the place that raised me.”
We sat down with Pious to find out more about her plans for after graduation and for her beloved Chicago.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: My “aha” moment when I realized that I wanted to study English literature was when I was a senior in high school. I took world literature, philosophy in literature, and creative writing. These classes made me fall deeper in love with using literature to address social issues through both reading and then writing my own poetry.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: Something I learned while at ASU that surprised me was while working as a sexual violence prevention peer educator, learning about the continuum of violence. I’ve known from personal experience — the environment I grew up in — the ways in which violence progresses; it doesn’t always start in the physical form. However, after having an opportunity to be an educator and adviser in this area, I have learned how the subject of sexual violence prevention is being taught in formal settings, and I am glad it is being acknowledged and supported at ASU.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU, initially, because I was tired of being cold. More than that, something that I live by, is that discomfort is the only way for growth. I did study abroad, but I’ve basically lived my entire life in Chicago on the Southside, where it’s an echo chamber of shared traumas, ideals and experiences. I knew that getting out of my comfort zone on my own would be the best way for me to discover what’s important for me and my personal growth and how that would look when giving back to the community that raised me.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I’d definitely say to them that it’s OK to quit (sometimes). That was the biggest lesson that I learned while here at ASU. I’ve never liked giving up on a task, goal or priority that I chose to take part in. However, when things such as your mental, emotional and physical health are suffering from overworking yourself and stretching yourself too thin, letting go of some things in order to take care of yourself isn’t a bad thing.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot on campus to relax and think was the closed-off sitting area on the righthand side of Piper Writers House. It’s a small, intimate and pseudo-isolated area that is surrounded by vegetation. I would go there to write and get some outside time without the pressure of social interaction. It’s very calming.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I plan on starting an online literary critique blog and discussing intersectionality and cultural competency (or lack thereof) in different forms of literature including: fiction, poetry, movies, music, etc. I will also be attending graduate school in the fall at Columbia College Chicago for the MFA in Poetry program. I hope to eventually get settled into publishing and nonprofit work to continue focusing on intersectionality, cultural competency and sexual violence prevention.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would use that money to tackle homelessness. It may seem cliché, but as someone who has been on the cusp multiple times and faced (and still face) chronic financial issues, this is very personal to me. More than that, in the neighborhood that I grew up in on the Southside, homelessness affects every aspect of black people’s lives. Without homes, they cannot go to school (if that’s an option) and cannot get jobs. Without jobs, they cannot get (healthy) food, clothes, access to transportation, health care, etc., which leads to health problems and many other issues.
I would use that money to buy and renovate abandoned homes and vacant lots to provide homes they can be proud and unashamed of. From there, when people have help and a stable foundation, they can and want to succeed. By providing that opportunity, many lives can be a bit better.
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