Student Creates Change Through Clubs and Advocacy

Students in Professor Lisa Phillips’ Feature Writing Class were assigned to profile people at the forefront of change:

Emma Ward is a zine creator and uses the different clubs on campus to advocate for different issues in society and help disadvantaged people as much as she can.

Taped on the inside of the front door is a hand-drawn sign that reads “I Hate Men” in a heart. Underneath that sign hangs a bright yellow pamphlet stating the warning signs of abuse in a relationship. The rest of the small apartment is cluttered. Glitter, stray pieces of paper and magazine cut-outs litter the floor. The bed in the corner is unmade. A toothbrush, unopened from its packaging, lies on top of the mattress. The sun shines through the window and hits the disco ball on the ceiling, sending light everywhere.

Emma Ward brushes the toothbrush to the side and plops down comfortably on her bed. She has a cup of tea in her hands. She gestures for me to sit on the chair next to her. She wears a huge smile on her face.

“I was going to clean up my room before you got here, but I decided not to. This is what I live in every day. This is me,” Ward said.

Her hair is cut short, and it is the same color as the red blazer she is sporting. She is also wearing leopard print leggings rolled up at the ankle and a patterned scarf. Somehow, the combination works.

Ward is a senior at SUNY New Paltz. She majors in visual arts and minors in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She is, as she puts it, “the quote-on-quote president of the Zine club” on campus. She is also a devout social rights activist.

Zines are self-made DIY booklets. Ward has many of them stacked around her room. The zines include cut-out quotes and images from all different magazines and online photos. They are fashioned in a way to spread a message through their images and words.

Ward did not even know what zines were before she came to New Paltz. In an introductory women’s, gender, and sexuality course, she spent a day learning how to make zines. She has been in love with them ever since then.

“Zines are typically made to express your identity or experiences. They are used to connect with people who share similar ideas,” Ward said.  “It’s a really great medium for connecting to others because it has no restrictions. You make them, you publish them and you circulate them. You can really do whatever you want with them. It is just such a basic and great idea.”

Ward said that zines are typically used to express one’s political views. She uses them to express hers. Often, hers depict feminist ideology and call out against destructive forms of capitalism.

“This one is going to be in part of my thesis show,” Ward said.

She handed me a carefully constructed zine. The cover shows a cutout of a young woman yelling through a megaphone. The famous New Paltz peace sign is also front and center. There are many quotes calling for action. One reads, “Find your voice and speak your truth.” “Let’s go community” and “Restoring community” surround the outer edges of the page. All the quotes are placed over the outline of the United States.

“The personal is the political,” Ward said. “We have to express these feelings somehow.”

Empathy is what fuels Ward’s passion towards social justice. She grew up in a white and semi- affluent neighborhood. She saw a lot of segregation between different groups of people growing up. Seeing these stark race, class and gender divisions forced Ward to ask herself some hard questions. She wondered what it would be like if she wasn’t born a white woman.

“You know, maybe in my previous life I lived in a different body,” Ward said. “Maybe I had less opportunities. No one deserves less than other people. At the core of my being, I can’t accept that everyone isn’t treated equally.”

When she was 15 years old Ward became an outspoken feminist at her high school. Rebelling against the status-quo and authority figures, Ward embodied her new identity. She openly questioned other students’ beliefs, and she got into many online debates over Facebook.

Ward described herself as a “full force feminist.” She wasn’t ashamed of the title in the slightest, but was mocked and bullied for her beliefs. She gives props to celebrities and social media forums for normalizing feminist ideals and bringing them to the spotlight.

“This is a really interesting time to live in,” Ward said. “We are women and we are proud. We are also starting to deconstruct women. People are starting [to] adopt gender neutral ideas outside of binary genders. We are living outside of the box. Our generation is rejecting normal ideals. I just find it so exciting.”

Ward started desexualizing herself in high school. It was around the same time she became a feminist. She was verbally and sexually abused by the people around her and past boyfriends. She felt a strange sexual presence from all the men in her life.

“My boyfriend at the time did things to me that weren’t okay,” Ward said. “When you go through an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, your perspective changes. You start to notice all the little ways men treat you differently as a woman.”

Ward decided to change the way everyone saw her.     

“I cut my hair and started dressing in a gender-neutral fashion,” Ward said.

Brought up in a nuclear family, Ward was raised to believe that her worth was tied to how a man saw her. The abuse she received at the hands of men was the catalyst that launched her into social change. During that time, she became extremely anti-establishment and anti-men.

“I don’t want anyone to go through the pain I did in any shape or form,” Ward explained.

Living together and working together in a community is Ward’s solution to all the trouble going on in the world. She plans to move to a commune after she graduates. She feels at home in a group setting and feeds off support from the people around her.

Creating zines and voicing her opinions online are not her only ways of protesting against injustices in the world. She attends rallies and protests regularly. Most recently she attended the Black Women’s March: Continuing the Legacy of Harriet Tubman.

“The march was meant to put black women who live in rural areas into the public eye and give them a voice,” Ward explained. “A lot of time black women in these areas are overlooked and forgotten about.”

The rally garnered a large amount of people, but twice as many police showed up. The point of the march was to peacefully cross the Tappan Zee bridge. The police stopped them.  

“It was crazy,” Ward said. “The police created a line that we couldn’t get through. They even had helicopters and drones flying around.”

Ward along with the other white protestors tried to push through the police’s line so they could cross the bridge.  This is a strategy used to protect African American protestors from police brutality. Their attempts to cross the bridge were ultimately unsuccessful.

The day and spirit of the rally was not lost. Ward and many other protestors ended up caravanning across the Tappan Zee. They all reconvened at the Nyack Center to continue spreading their message.

“It was upsetting that we couldn’t march across the bridge because it was a peaceful demonstration,” Ward exclaimed. “At the end of the day, it is the people’s taxes that help pay for that bridge. If it weren’t for us there would be no bridge.”

Currently, Ward is working at the Karma Road Organic Cafe. She has become a vegan and an animal rights activist. She is part of the Animal Rights Association.

This is one of the many new clubs she has joined. She often joins a new club or movement every year. She never stays involved in the organization for much longer, although she carries on the beliefs and practices she learned from them.

“I just like to be involved in as many organizations as I can,” Ward said. “I am always trying to learn something new and meet new people. I have much love for every club I’ve even been a part of.”

Like the Zines she creates, Ward is complex and tries to send out a strong message. She holds various different beliefs and ideologies. She has been largely shaped by all the various people and movements in her life. She has been constructed by all the challenges she faced in the past and present.

Ward expressed her belief that change is possible in our lifetimes, “If we want to change the world, we must start at the bottom. Nobody from the top is going to give us what we need. We can’t ask anyone for permission. The change needs to trickle up. We need to live like it is the future and be the change.”

Read more about #ChangeMakers here:

David Wilkes, self-taught artist and vice president of Roost Studios and Art Gallery, opens up about how his journey with photography led him to go to Ghana, West Africa.

Ellie Condelles, president of Democracy Matters, spends each Thursday informing her peers about the importance of political involvement, especially in the current political climate and their ability to make a change.

Bryan Sison, a photography enthusiast at SUNY New Paltz, creates thought-provoking images on his Students of New Paltz Instagram page.

Billie Golan, the head organizer of the farmer’s market, has managed it every Thursday for the past three years and strives to create a sense of community.

Caleb Sheedy, theater major at Syracuse University, single-handedly organized a walkout at New Paltz High School after the Parkland Florida shooting to create a platform for change on gun violence.

Helene Strong, a Holocaust survivor, dedicated her time at the VA hospital to help recovering soldiers reintegrate into civilian life and give back to the military community.

Brianna Knight, co-president of Melodía and Movement, strives to educate people about diversity through her poems and hopes to become a teacher.

Victoria Precise, an alumna and drag queen, educates the Hudson Valley on drag and inclusiveness, while maintaining mentor relationships with students.

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