Elyza Rae Ahrens graduated from UW- Green Bay in 2015 with a Democracy & Justice Studies and Psychology double major and a Sociology minor. She currently works as an educator for a public sector labor union in New York state. She helps design and facilitate curriculum to help members understand how their union operates as well as how they can become better activists and leaders. I also help organize and run annual conferences. Due to the nature of COVID, we have moved all of our in-person trainings onto a virtual format.
Why did you decide to major in Democracy & Justice Studies, Psychology, and Sociology? I’ve always been passionate about social justice and fairness since I was a child, and I wanted to learn how I contribute to building a better world. To do that, I figured I’d need to know as much as I could about history and social science. Though it seems counterintuitive to some, I also wanted to learn about human psychology since political and economic changes is in many ways an interpersonal process. As I often said to people confused about why I dovetailed psych and DJS, “We’re not tinkering with a machine or a building here; we’re working with human beings, and to be most effective, we need to know how people think, interact, and communicate with one another.”
What academic experience or accomplishment are you most proud of? As a student, I helped organize rallies, lobbying efforts, and other grassroots campaigns across Wisconsin linking students to community members and labor union activists in an effort to oppose a bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker cutting $300 million from the UW System budget and removing shared governance from state law. In the end, the final bill still cut $250 million from the UW System and removed shared governance for faculty members, but we managed to retain shared governance for students and showed others the power of political organizing and grassroots activism.
What is an important goal or accomplishment you are currently working on? I came out as a transgender woman a year ago, and I have a 2 year-old daughter, so working through my gender transition in the midst of a pandemic and ensuring that my daughter has a loving home she can thrive in are my top priorities at this moment.
What do you do for fun? I still like to read scholarly literature (thank you to all my wonderful UWGB professors!!), spend time with my daughter, play with makeup, hang out with friends, and listen to music.
What else do you want people to know about you? I have 16 boxes of books in my attic that I purchased from the Cofrin Library when they would clear out the stacks and sell books for $1 a piece. I have only read a handful of them, but I hold no regrets (though my ex-wife may have a less-than-enthusiastic opinion). Some day, I’d like to build a library in my home. Simply looking at my books gives me a serene feeling, because they are a low-tech, stable source of information (albeit sometimes outdated) in a world that seems to be increasingly buzzing with attention-demanding apps and a precariousness that probably contributes to anxiety disorders and depression that so many people suffer from today (whether formally diagnosed or not). <3