Lizzie Jekanowski, A&S ’13, doesn’t stop moving. She doesn’t just speak, she acts, using her hands just as much as her voice to tell her story. When she’s not answering a question, she’s grooving from her spot in O’Neill Plaza to the music coming from a nearby Arts Fest tent.
“I like the social parts of campus,” she said, occasionally pausing to wave hello to friends passing by.
Jekanowski, who grew up on a sheep farm in rural Massachusetts, has always been moving. When it came time to choose a college, the opportunity to explore was just as important to her as the quality of education she’d be getting.
“I knew that if I went to a small rural school, I wouldn’t grow in myself at all,” she said. “I figured, this was four years in a new environment, and it would be a new way to learn about myself and really put myself out of my comfort zone … I knew it was going to be kind of a shock, but I figured I’d just throw myself into the deep end.”
Despite this goal, Jekanowski has not forgotten her roots. While Boston College may have helped her branch out, her upbringing is still immediately visible.
“My mom was a sheep farmer who is a total badass feminist,” Jekanowski said. “My dad works really hard to provide for me. I came from a really supportive family and a really strong-willed family.
“The area where I grew up, it’s super gay, everyone’s really tatted and pierced out and has crazy hair. Really alternative … It’s a super social justice-y area too.”
Jekanowski had had comprehensive sexual education in high school and was shocked that not only had many students at BC not had the same, but that they had very limited opportunities to learn about sexual decision-making in college.
“This was my entryway into feminism and learning about the disadvantages that women face in this context, specifically in healthcare, and restrictions on their healthcare and sexuality and on their bodies, is really indicative of the larger social institution that marginalize women and other groups of people,” she said. “The more and more involved I got, the more I learned. And I learned a lot more about the specificities of GLBTQ issues, of race issues, of class issues.”
This dedication to social justice led Jekanowski to BC Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) and ultimately, led a caravan of TV news vans and newspaper journalists to BC’s campus this year.
Jekanowski has been an active advocate for women’s rights throughout her time on campus. She has helped raise much-needed funds for BCPD’s Rape Aggression Defense training, organize the annual Take Back the Night event, and, most notably, led BCSSH into the national spotlight.
“Honestly, Lizzie has brought a force and passion to the women’s rights movement at BC,” said Joshua Tingley, A&S ’13 and Jekanowski’s longtime friend. “From teaching bystander education to reproductive justice, Lizzie has fought for women and all the rights they deserve. I am sure that 20 years from now, when women at BC look back, they will identify Lizzie as a pioneer.”
While Jekanowski may indeed be a pioneer for women’s rights at BC, the issue is nothing new.
“I got [an email] from an alum from back in ’74 who was like, ‘This was an issue then. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years, and this is still an issue,'” Jekanowski said. “Why haven’t things changed?”
The fact that reproductive rights must still be fought for has driven Jekanowski to expand BCSSH and make it more visible on campus. This year, the group had two goals: to increase its membership, and to enact policy change on campus by making BCSSH a true movement.
“Quite accidentally, that’s what this has become,” Jekanowski said.
The accidental movement began on Mar. 15 of this year, when administrators sent members of BCSSH a warning that the organization’s “Safe Sites,” or dorm rooms in which students can get free male and female condoms and information about sexual health, went against BC’s Catholic ideals.
After national news organizations picked the story up, both Jekanowski and BC have received both sharp criticism and strong praise for their respective actions. The negative responses, however, do not faze Jekanowski.
“Institutions are saying no, you can’t have these medical procedures, no, you can’t have sex with this person, no, you can’t do this certain act with this person,” she said. “But this is my body! Literally, this is all I have in the world. I see freedom and control over the body as the fundamental basis of my work, of the movement, of all of these social justice movements.”
This unwavering faith in her cause, the support and dedication of her fellow BCSSH activists, and the belief that criticism promotes dialogue have helped Jekanowski deal with the negative press.
“It can be really frustrating,” she said. “They’re doing this in their spare time and they feel like they’re not getting anywhere, but to get national attention on how lives are fundamentally affected by these healthcare policies, it’s really invigorating for us … It’s definitely exhausting, but all social justice work is.”
After graduation, Jekanowski will be spending a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps at a rape crisis center in San Jose, Calif., after which she is considering going into law school in order to affect women’s reproductive health policy through legislation.
“She understands the world we live in … and how it interfaces with the Catholic Church and then the community and the legal system, clinical system,” said Jackie Lerner, a professor of developmental psychology at BC and BCSSH’s unofficial faculty advisor. “I think that that pushes their cause forward in a positive way because the people they’re trying to work with are seeing that it’s not just this student group who wants to get their way.”
Whether Jekanowski chooses to promote reproductive rights in a legal arena or continue to pursue a more grassroots approach, she will continue moving-and everyone will know it.
“I like causing a ruckus,” she said. “I think you need to.”