Zukiewicz champions women's rights

Teaching America

After an unforgettable four years at the College, Zukiewicz has decided to spend the next two years working for Teach for America, a program that sends teachers into high-need public schools across the country. She will be placed in an elementary school in New York City teaching bilingual education.

As exciting as the prospect is, Zukiewicz also realizes that her job will be incredibly challenging. “I’m going to be thrown in with a bunch of elementary school kids in a bilingual classroom,” she said. “I have no clue how many of the kids will be speaking English. I was hired in part because I speak Spanish, and I’m going to be speaking Spanish every day.”

Teaching will also be a test. “It’s supposed to be incredibly difficult and fraught with problems,” said Zukiewicz. “I am going to find out if I have the sheer talent that it requires, if I have the endurance.”

Zukiewicz is also considering the possibility of a professorship in a women’s and gender studies department at a college, and this could be another step towards that end. “I have had enough encouragement here to think that’s something I can pursue,” said Zukiewicz.

Serving at Amherst

If the past is any indication, Teach for America will be a great success for Zukiewicz. This year, she has been working in the community outreach office as the coordinator for Girls Inc., an after-school tutoring program that works with eight- to twelve-year-old girls in Holyoke, Mass.

According to Assistant Director of Community Outreach Faith Kares, Zukiewicz has filled the post well. “Her commitment to community work and the Community Outreach program has been phenomenal,” said Kares. “Her enthusiasm and zest for working with people is contagious and it was a pleasure to have her in the office.”

Tutor Epiphanie Marquez ’06 agreed. “She was always available to give tips on how to be a better tutor,” said Marquez. “At Girls Inc., it was apparent that the children adored her.  They would constantly ask when Marykate would be coming again.”

“It takes up a lot of time in terms of coordinating volunteers, but it’s been a great job,” said Zukiewicz. She added that she has learned a lot about Girls Inc. itself, but also a lot about non-governmental organizations in general, and about the difficulties of getting people to do something on a regular, weekly basis.

Zukiewicz has also appreciated her work with the WAGS department. She has long been interested in gender theory, and she found the College a great place to pursue this interest.

“The women’s and gender studies department is incredible here,” she said. “It’s so small that there’s pretty much a one-to-one ratio of students [in the major] to professors [in the department]. I’ve gotten a lot of support and enthusiasm from my advisor, [Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies] Margaret Hunt and the other professors in the department.”

Joining “extra” with curricular

“I think that one thing I’ve learned here is … to combine outside interests with classroom interests,” said Zukiewicz. “There are very few requirements, and it’s an incredible privilege that we have this kind of ability on this campus to do that. … I’ve found effective means to combine my passions with my studies. To live passionately and to learn to live with that passion everyday is something I’ve learned here.”

Zukiewicz took full advantage of the opportunities for mixing interests and studies, spending the fall semester of her junior year abroad in Santiago, Chile. “One of the great things about that program … was the chance for independent investigation,” said Zukiewicz. She did research in Santiago on the penalties for abortion there. “It helped me to figure out that writing a thesis was something that I wanted to do, particularly a thesis on women in Latin America.”

Zukiewicz’s thesis was entitled “From peace camp to sexual education camp: The mobilization and activism of a women’s alliance in Vieques, Puerto Rico.”

“She came upon the topic entirely on her own, saw its potential and followed it through to the end,” said Hunt, Zukiewicz’s thesis advisor. “It’s hard to write a thesis on events that are so recent because the events are too fresh in people’s minds, the politics still too raw. … Luckily she had what it takes. I was deeply impressed by her commitment to the project.”

Hunt added that Zukiewicz has many qualities that enabled her to write an impressive thesis. “Marykate has an incisive theoretical mind, excellent research skills and a wonderful writing style. … But if I could isolate the one thing that really made the difference … I would say it was her respect for the people of Vieques, something that goes way beyond a trite phrase like ‘people skills.’ Marykate gained the trust of the women she was writing about-women who, themselves, had diverse political and social views. I don’t think her interviewees would have opened up in the way they did to just anyone, much less a North American college student. And because she won that trust she discovered some really interesting things about the way grass-roots women’s organizations get formed and change over time.”

Zukiewicz took advantage of the the Fellowships for Action from the Career Center last summer to work for Alianza de Mujeres (Women’s Alliance) in Vieques, Puerto Rico. She arrived at Vieques just a month after the U.S. military had left and stopped using the island as a site for weapons testing.

“They were trying to figure out what they were going to do next, so it was a very exciting time, because it was at this point of transition in Vieques,” Zukiewicz explained. Vieques had been a popular cause among grassroots activists all over the world for years, but now that the very visible problem of the American military was resolved, the island was left on its own. “There are still problems, though: The land is highly contaminated, people still don’t have jobs. It is important for people to continue to pay attention to what’s going on in Vieques.”