Last August, to honor the memory of Dr. Alison Piepmeier, the College of Charleston’s Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program established a scholarship in her name. Alison was known for her social activism, scholarship, and dedication to students. As the Charleston City Paper put it, “Alison was a force of nature.”
This spring, Leigh Friar was chosen as the first recipient of the scholarship. Leigh is uniquely deserving of this award. In addition to her commitment to social activism, Alison was Leigh’s professor, mentor, and role model.
“Dr. Piepmeier had a significant influence on me – not only on my academic career but on my personal growth,” Leigh says.
Before leaving their family’s small farm on Johns Island, Leigh already committed to studying biology. “I wanted to go into the hard sciences because I believed that objectivity was the answer to every question,” Leigh says. After meeting Alison during their freshman seminar class, however, Leigh was intrigued. “When I asked her what it meant to study in women’s and gender studies she told me it was about questioning and challenging the perceived objectivity of academia and creating space for activism.”
Leigh declared a WGS major the following day.
Since freshman year, Leigh, now a senior, has worked with many organizations to help make a difference in the Charleston community. Leigh has worked with People Against Rape as a sexual assault survivor advocate, My Sister’s House as a crisis line advocate, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to raise funds for survivors of partner violence. Most recently, Leigh started volunteering as an organizer with Girls Rock Charleston, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering girls and transgender youth. Leigh also started working with We Are Family, an organization that provides opportunities to LGBTQI youth and straight ally youth, to start a support group for the parents of trans and gender non-conforming children. “These organizations have not only allowed me to see the practical application of my academic studies but to give back to my community,” Leigh says.
After graduation in May, Leigh plans to continue gender and sexuality studies at the graduate level and aspires to get a Ph.D. in social work in order to teach and inspire others, just like Alison did. “I watched as Dr. Piepmeier inspired students to unapologetically carve out space for themselves. I want to focus my teaching career on ethics in social work and intersectionality in academia.”
We’re certain that Alison would be proud to have Leigh as the first recipient of the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship.
Thank you to those who have donated to the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship in order to help students like Leigh. To learn about and donate to the fund, click here.