Surrounded by stories of violence against women, children without access to education, sexual assault, and various negative realities of the world, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed. As one woman, how can I possibly feel motivated that my voice, my words, or my life will mean something, create change, or advance the world? But before I call it a day and fall into an always-regretful Netflix binge, I am reminded that it is up to me, and me alone, to use my voice as effectively, and sometimes as loudly, as possible. It is a lesson I learned from a woman named Lorraine Berry.
I first met Lorraine almost 14 years ago as a freshman at SUNY Cortland. I had settled on a major of Professional Writing and was encouraged to get involved in the international student magazine, NeoVox. On my first day, a plucky woman with short wavy hair strides to the center of the room, introduces herself as the Project Director, and immediately starts firing questions. I don’t know if there is a word for feeling immediately intimidated yet completely comfortable, but that’s how I felt with Lorraine. Whether I wanted to talk about racism or my insecurities as a woman, she was always there to listen and then pose a question.
“If students leave my classes not questioning information that is being presented to them, then I feel that I have failed as a professor.”
Perhaps without knowing it, Lorraine has this talent of knowing how to use her words. Whether writing for a magazine or lecturing to her students, she makes you feel like you’ve known her for years. As a student, I was easily inspired by Lorraine. She is a talented writer and a motivating teacher, somehow steering me to find my own voice, push myself beyond my own laziness, and be proud of my accomplishments. As a grown woman, I am still consistently inspired by Lorraine.
Lorraine still works at Neo-Vox while teaching classes on creative nonfiction and magazine writing. She is a consistent contributor to various publications, such as Salon and RH Reality Check, and also serves as senior editor for Talking Writing. Even with so many responsibilities, Lorraine always makes time for her students (past included), especially when it comes to the opinions of young women.
It comes as no surprise that many young women feel like they can open up to Lorraine. While she pushes her students to hone their skills in critical thinking, she actively mentors young women who are coming into a feminist understanding of the world.
“It has become increasingly clear to young women that things are not equal in the world, and they need to find ways to negotiate that.”
With a patient ear, Lorraine makes young women – myself included –feel less alone by validating our view of the world. She offers personal stories and helps us work around barriers posed by sexism, racism, homophobia, and heterosexism. Lorraine admits that she too feels moments of defeat but what gives her hope is that each year she meets young women who are waking up to the fact that we must preserve our rights and push for real equality in the world.
What gives me hope is that these young women have crossed paths with Lorraine. She can inspire you to make the most out of every day, every word, and every opinion. She is a true example of what it means to be a teacher, mentor, feminist, and activist (frankly I don’t know when she sleeps). I firmly believe that she touches the lives of all around her and I am grateful to call her a friend.