Emily Pierce- reading, writing, and racism

By the end of my senior year of high school, I was certain that I wanted to be a middle school Language Arts teacher. Now, my last semester of my undergraduate degree, I am certain that I do not.

In middle school and high school, much of my free time was spent writing, and I always loved my Language Arts classes. I entered Piedmont College as an English Education major, but I will be leaving this May with a B.A. in English, plus whatever a minor in Social Justice shows up as, and heading off to graduate school for, yes, more English. It took me a while to realize that the K12 education system was not for me, though I retain my intense respect for educators. The same semester I first spoke at a literary conference, SAMLA, I changed my major. Luckily, I had enough English credits to not be too far behind.

Since changing my major, I’ve had internships and other professional opportunities appear from out of the blue. I got to be the guinea pig for the Lillian Smith Scholars Program here at Piedmont as well as for Reforming Arts’ (a non-profit that provides liberal arts education at Lee Arrendale Prison) internship program. This past summer I stumbled into an internship with Georgia Humanities and got to work on the upcoming Lillian Smith documentary. In February, I’m giving a presentation on Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream at the Southern Studies Conference. I am also working on submitting a paper to be published.

Throughout the past couple years, Lillian Smith and her work have made a huge impact on me, and much of what she talked about could have been said yesterday. I have seen the impacts of institutionalized racism on the news and in day-to-day life, but nothing hit me so hard as my internship with Reforming Arts, getting to be in the prison and work with these women one-on-one. Mass incarceration has become a big social justice issue for me, and I have changed from “Miss Community Service” in my high school’s pageant to being someone who marches and affects change. I am writing my capstone on Lillian Smith’s work and the personal, societal, and historical traumas of racism.

These opportunities, combined with the influence of Lillian Smith and the love and support from my family, church family, friends, and boyfriend, have shown me that I made the right decision, and I know that I’m ready for whatever comes next.

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