Lauren Frey ‘17 Tackles Gender Equality Issues Locally and Globally

Lauren Frey '17 in Sololá, Guatemala - Summer 2014
Lauren Frey ’17 in Sololá, Guatemala – Summer 2014

As a high school student, Lauren Frey ‘17 observed that people commonly assumed unidentified individuals or characters to be men.

“I realized this happened sometimes due to the lack of language available to describe something in gender-neutral terms,” said Frey. “In other words, the binary system of pronouns made it difficult for people to truly be neutral. We can say ‘he or she’ or we can use the gender neutral terms ‘they’ and ‘theirs’ and ‘them’ as singular forms. It seems like it’s not a big deal, but everything adds up. Sexist language is just another example of the continuing oppression of women. The cool thing about language is that we have the power to change it.”

“Changing the World by Changing Our Words” is the title of a talk that Frey developed and delivered at TEDxNCSU last spring, when she was only a freshman. A double major in environmental sciences and women’s and gender studies, Frey has dedicated her first year and a half at NC State to exploring both of these passions and sharing her learning with others. She was recently named the student recipient of a 2015 Equity for Women Award, given by NC State’s Council on the Status of Women.

“As I entered college, I started to notice gender inequalities more than I ever had before,” Frey said. “I read a few different books and articles and became fascinated with feminism.”

Lauren Frey '17 (left) with Park Faculty Scholar Allison McCulloch during Learning Lab II - Fall 2014
Lauren Frey ’17 (left) with Park Faculty Scholar Allison McCulloch during Learning Lab II – Fall 2014

Frey is a co-chair of Service Raleigh 2015; a member of Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE); and volunteers with both NC State’s Women’s Center and InterAct of Wake County, a nonprofit organization that supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. This semester, she is leading a University Honors Program Academy course called “The F Word,” in which students discuss the history and relevance of feminism.

Frey is also co-sponsoring a Civic Engagement Initiative with fellow Park Scholar Sydney Grice ‘17. Through this yearlong “Empowerment Project,” Frey, Grice, and two of their Park classmates are working with middle school students at the Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy to build their understanding of topics such as body image, self-esteem, and gender equality.

This past summer, Frey took her interests beyond the Raleigh area and spent seven weeks conducting research in Sololá, Guatemala with NC State’s Ethnographic Field School. She found that family planning was a compelling intersection between environmental and gender studies.

“I wanted to investigate women’s decision-making processes when deciding when to have children and how many to have,” said Frey. “I also wanted to explore Guatemala’s population statistics and see if my findings might indicate how the population growth rate might change. I used ethnographic methods such as questionnaires, pile sorting, time allocations, cognitive drawing exercises, and in-depth interviews to do my research project.”

Lauren Frey '17 in Panajachel, Guatemala, presenting her research on family planning - Summer 2014
Lauren Frey ’17 in Panajachel, Guatemala, presenting her research on family planning – Summer 2014

Following her summer research experience, Frey joined five other Park Scholars and alumni for a wilderness retreat in Shenandoah National Park.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Frey. “I had never been very athletic, and this trip showed me that no previous experience is necessary to try something new or to become more physically active. Backpacking is the ultimate bonding experience; I got to know my fellow hikers extremely well in a short period, because we spent every moment together. It was challenging. There was one rock scramble that lasted for hours and it rained for the first whole day of our trip. But the positives outweighed the challenges.”

After graduation, Frey plans to pursue a doctoral degree; however, she hasn’t yet worked out the details of her post-collegiate steps.

“I do not know exactly what my future career will look like,” she said, “but as long as I am doing something that makes a positive difference, I’ll be happy.”

Story by Maressa Gabriel

posted 2015.02.27