Lena Peak

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By Kaela Frailing, Fall ‘20

For our November 2020 Alumni Profile, we are so grateful to be able to catch up with Lena Peak! Lena graduated from Aquinas in 2018 with a Psychology major and Women’s Studies minor and is now attending Washington University in St. Louis’ Brown School. She expects to graduate in 2022 with a Master of Social Work, with a concentration in Transformative Sexuality Education and Empowerment .

When we asked Lena what her life has been like since graduating from Aquinas, she gives a great one-word answer: non-linear. She had a clear path leaving Aquinas, but after three unsuccessful graduate school application cycles, she began to explore new opportunities, such as being a live-in nanny in Italy and Puerto Rico, and then returning to her family home during the pandemic, before ultimately landing at Wash U’s Brown School. She explains: “I couldn’t be happier with where I ended up, but before this year I struggled with feelings of failure for falling short of my own narrow expectations and not conforming to society’s linear timeline.” She sees this as a great reminder that life may not always take you the route that you want to go, but you will end up in the right place eventually.

Now that Lena has had these circuitous experiences before finding the right grad program, her five-year plan is more flexible than she had originally planned. She says her biggest goal for the next five years is that she is prioritizing herself and living a life she is proud of. Her frequent mantra is “It matters less what I’m doing, and matters more that I’m the one doing it” -- empowering words for all of us, considering how turbulent the world has been recently.

At the same time, Lena also has some ideas for the future, such as pursuing a PhD program or becoming a sex educator in her local community -- but ultimately, only time will tell where her journey will take her.

Reflecting back on her time as a Women’s Studies minor at Aquinas, Lena says that her favorite memory was of Susan Haworth-Hoeppner acting out a turkey mating call in class and that the quote that has stuck with her and that she keeps coming back to is one from Amy Dunham Strand, who said “Be gentle with yourself,” something we all need to remind ourselves to do sometimes.

For current students minoring in Women’s Studies, she shares that the concepts that you are learning in your Women’s Studies courses may feel like an awakening, sometimes validating and affirming, but it also can feel that everything is being turned on its head. She wants you to remember that this is normal and to remain curious. However, she also advises that “it’s also important to recognize that the same academic spaces that have expanded our worldview can also be spaces that produce and perpetuate systems of oppression.” Women’s Studies will offer you a framework to approach the world critically, but you can also explore new frameworks as you find them.

Relevant to these ideas about the importance of multiple theoretical frameworks are Lena’s thoughts about economic systems of oppression. When Lena was asked, “If you could wave your activist magic wand and address a feminist issue in our society, what would it be and why?” she replied:

Abracadabra, hocus-pocus, banish capitalism from our locus! I’m writing this on Halloween, so thank you for letting me indulge in that tomfoolery. In all seriousness, we can trace much of this nation’s systemic oppression (racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, etc.) to our roots in capitalism and colonialism. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a devastating illustration of just how badly capitalism works in this country. Billionaires have gotten enormously richer, while average Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Capitalism is the thread that weaves all forms of oppression together.

Lastly, Lena left us with a couple book recommendations, so make sure to check them out!

Modern Mothering: What Daughters Say They Need from Their Mothers Regarding Sexual Development and Its Impact on Their Self Worth by Joyce T. McFadden & Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, PhD.

Thank you again to Lena for sharing her post-Aquinas life - we miss you greatly and wish you the best in your future endeavors!