Taking inspiration from her feminist mentors working in print and digital media, Laura Cohen ’15, hopes to one day help change how women and other marginalized groups are examined in mainstream media.
“I hope to work for a magazine or digital publication that focuses on women’s issues, among other social justice issues,” says Cohen, a dual major in magazine and women’s and gender studies at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the College of Arts and Sciences respectively. “I think journalism is a powerful tool in promoting change because stories bring awareness.”
Combining the two interdisciplinary paths, Cohen expresses her irrepressible passion for advocacy through her written contributions to several student and community publications. In fall 2013, she penned the women and gender column for the Daily Orange, examining issues in politics, pop culture, and student life. Currently, she is the digital director for Jerk magazine, overseeing the publication’s online platform, including feature articles, videos, and social media content. In addition, Cohen is a regular contributor to The OutCrowd, a student-run campus magazine covering issues and events within the LGBT community. Her dedication to crafting engaging commentary has made a solid impression on the professors she has worked with during the past four years.
“I would describe Laura as a dedicated feminist journalist,” says Vivian May, chair and professor of women’s and gender studies. “She is committed to an inclusive vision of justice and equity and is adept at capturing the nuances of any story she is covering.”
The communications staff in the College of Arts and Sciences caught up with Cohen as she starts her final semester at Syracuse University, and asked her to reflect on her motivation to pursue a career in advocacy journalism.
What drew you to and inspired you to focus on women’s and gender studies?
As a magazine major, I am often able to choose topics to cover in my classes. I was always drawn to writing about women’s issues, sort of as a form of advocacy journalism. I’ve long identified as a feminist and want to discuss important issues through my writing to hopefully enact change. I soon realized a major in women’s and gender studies would be key to understanding more issues, especially the lesser-publicized issues discussed in intersectional feminism.
Tell us a little bit about life before Syracuse University?
In high school, I was very involved. I always enjoyed being a leader and working with other people. In addition, I was also a member of the school’s self defense program for women. I had a lot of fun and learned some great defensive skills, but then the entire class was shut down because a girl got hurt. At the same time, members of the boys’ teams were getting hurt on the football field everyday, but their programs never got cancelled. I rallied my peers and alumni, started a petition, and led a presentation in front of the Board of Education about why our program was beneficial to students at the school, and the program was reinstated. This was my first time organizing for a cause, and in doing so I did a lot of research on violence against women. Just the numbers alone made me even more aware of the oppression taking place in society – something I hadn’t really learned much about in my high school education. I would say this sparked my interest in feminism and women’s and gender studies.
Is there a member of the faculty that has had a significant influence on your academic trajectory?
Robin Riley inspired me to major in women’s and gender studies after I took WGS 101 with her during my freshman year. I was just so excited that there were classes about the pieces of history, literature, and politics that are often left out in other classes and majors. I have also been lucky enough to have Vivian May as a professor twice, and I think it’s really special when we can get multiple opportunities to learn from one great individual and build a relationship with them. She has always supported me and my classmates in every endeavor we are involved in on campus and it means a lot to have her here. Dana Olwan is also one of the professors who changed the way I look at women’s and gender studies. She opened my mind to so many more ideas and is also an unending source of support.
What’s your favorite thing about attending Syracuse University?
SU stood out to me because there were so many platforms for students to get their voice heard, whether it was through a magazine, newspaper, or television show. There are also organizations and groups for nearly every interest or cause out there. In addition, I really appreciate the diversity here – there are people from every race, gender, sexuality, and even many countries. One of my best friends is an international student from Asia, and before college, I had only basically known people from New York or New Jersey. SU has definitely expanded my view of the world.
Who continues to inspire you as you make plans for the future?
I am inspired by feminist women working in the media – whether they’re writing articles or novels, or running a publication. It’s strong leaders like them who are changing the conversation around women and various marginalized groups in politics and mainstream media. I think a lot of the issues we care so deeply about in Women’s and Gender Studies are finally being addressed and I hope to soon be a part of it.