17 May 2021 PLEN Spotlights Robelo-Lara '21

At the Colleges, Lorena Robelo-Lara ’21 has advanced equity in the classroom and in club organizations. The American studies and writing and rhetoric double major intends to pursue a career in law with an international focus.

At a recent Public Education Leadership Network (PLEN) breakfast, Lorena Robelo-Lara ’21 gave the senior spotlight address, where she reflected on her academic and personal experiences at the Colleges. A significant part of her journey, Robelo-Lara says, has been finding her voice as a writer and advocate for women of color. She also shared insights about her PLEN journey at the 2021 Senior Symposium.

A Posse Scholar, Robelo-Lara says she landed her spot in the higher-ed leadership program by speaking honestly and with conviction during the group interview process. The experience was an early lesson for Robelo-Lara in the power of language.

At the Colleges, Robelo-Lara’s First Year Seminar “Outsider Women: Activists, Artists and Outspoken Women in American Popular Culture” inspired her to pursue her American studies major, and a double major in writing and rhetoric. Armed with an interdisciplinary perspective, she has since conducted research that challenges myths about American culture.

Robelo-Lara took “Critical Family History” during the courses’ first semester offered on campus. Taught by Associate Professor of American Studies Elizabeth Belanger, the experimental course encouraged students to dig into their own family histories to uncover personal and familial connections to geopolitical, social and economic forces. Instead of textbooks, students combed public records and archives, signed up for ancestry.com accounts and interviewed family members.

Robelo-Lara quickly identified that students of color in the classroom had difficulty finding records past their family’s second or third generation using the popular genealogy platform.

“There are many types of silence,” Robelo-Lara says. “They exist in archives or when students are excluded from participating in a classroom discussion.”

In addition, Robelo-Lara says interviews with her father gave her little insight to her family history. While her father has passed on rich cultural traditions and recipes from Mexico to Robelo-Lara and her siblings, he was uninterested in focusing on the past. She noticed a similar phenomenon with other students whose families have immigration stories.

With her classmate Lalaine Vergara ’21, the pair focused their final project on finding inclusive methods of research and analysis to enhance the course. Alongside Belanger, the project grew into an independent study. They are now in the process of finalizing their research and seeking publication.

“I have friends at other schools who do not have the opportunity to publish alongside their professors at the undergraduate level,” Robelo-Lara says. “It’s an amazing thing about HWS.”

Robelo-Lara finished capstones for both of her majors. In American Studies, Robelo-Lara created a podcast. In a conversational format, she discusses anti-Asian racism in American culture, as well as the films of academy award winning director Bong Joon-ho, including Parasite.

In writing and rhetoric, students complete a portfolio that requires them to write extensively and reflectively about their own work. Robelo-Lara’s theme was “Writers as Readers.”

Growing up, she says, she struggled to connect to children’s books and English classes that centered white protagonists. Now, she is bringing herself into her work by centering her own experiences. “For me, writing is survival,” she says. “I am learning the importance of language. And I am so cognizant of what I say and I how I say it.”

And for Robelo-Lara, who speaks English, Spanish and is teaching herself Korean, language has always been a way to unlock new perspectives. “I bring my bilingual identity to class and sometimes that helps me see things no one else has identified in a text or in a discussion,” she reflects.

While the coronavirus pandemic canceled her plans to study abroad in South Korea last year, it also gave her the determination to apply to graduate programs in the country centered on law and international cooperation.

On campus, Robelo-Lara was a member of Hai Timiai, the William Smith Honor Society and worked in the William Smith Dean’s Office. She is a member of the First Generation Initiative.

Robelo-Lara was a Class Leader for PLEN. She says the organization strengthened her relationship to students, faculty and staff at the Colleges. Through PLEN, she had the opportunity to attend the Women of Color Influencing Washington Summit, where she met women in policy, law, advocacy and STEM careers on Capitol Hill.