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Photos provided by Lori Baralt
Photos provided by Lori Baralt

Molding Minds of Future Activists

By Lauren Galvan

After growing up in a conservative family, Lori Baralt had no idea others had progressive thoughts as she did, let alone a whole major and career centered around it.

Baralt, an associate professor and department chair of the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Long Beach State University, is striving for a better future for all. While attending college at the University of Florida, she changed her major at least four times until she finally settled on political science.

“Then I took a women’s studies class and at that time, it was just called women’s studies,” Baralt said. “I loved it like I was excited to do my readings and to write things and I felt like it was relevant to my life.”

Even though Baralt had found her calling, she still had a very conservative family who would never approve of her being a women’s studies major. So, she decided to double major instead of telling them that she switched.

After graduating, she had no idea what she wanted to do, so like many other lost students who have graduated, she went to grad school. Once she received her graduate degree in sociology, Baralt ended up taking a position at LBSU and has been with Long Beach since 2009.

Now, Baralt is set on helping students fall in love with women’s, gender, and sexuality studies like she did when she was in college.

“I don’t even remember what class it was but I remember the books,” Baralt said. “It resonated with me deeply, and it gave language to things I saw and knew were wrong, but if I said it to my parents, they would tell me, ‘that’s just how it is.’”

As a professor, she feels like she is helping make a difference in the world and that it is very rewarding. Of course, the pandemic has made it difficult to connect with students and see them have the experience that she once did.

Through the years that Baralt has been at LBSU, her favorite classes to teach are the introduction class, gender, race, sex, and the body, as well as the reproductive justice course.

“Students are already really passionate about the topic (reproductive justice) and we get to delve into it together and think about social change,” Baralt said. “I love that class every single time.”

According to Baralt, she believes it is important for this subject to be taught because it is relevant to everything and it allows everyone to understand their place in the world. She also hopes it will help guide people in dismantling structural inequalities. Not only is she teaching the facts, but Baralt is also exploring frameworks and helping others create change through activism.

She hopes that those who leave her class become agents of change either by taking what they’ve learned and applying it to their professions or going into direct activism.

“To me, it is allowing students to look at the world through a very critical lens so they can apply it to everything else they do,” Baralt said. “I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t be important.”

When Baralt feels as though the world is failing and there isn’t much hope, she looks to her students and she can’t help but feel a lot of hope for the future, knowing they will be in it. As far as activism and taking charge, Baralt has done plenty of research for women and social justice over the years, from her dissertation on breast cancer activism with a critical lens on the model of breast cancer advocacy in the U.S. to serving on the board of Breast Cancer Action.

This semester, Baralt is currently not teaching in order to do research on parenting and caregiving as academics during the pandemic.

“School’s were closed, and daycares were closed, but our jobs didn’t really stop,” Baralt said. “There is already a gender equity gap among women of color and women parents, and COVID made it worse than it already was.”

Baralt has also been very focused on seeing what is important to students at LBSU. In fact, she has collected data on the reproductive health of students and what they need from the university.

According to Baralt, there is a place for everyone in social movements, even for those who don’t like being loud. You can take charge and get involved in all kinds of ways, whether it be making spreadsheets or making signs. Baralt recommends finding your people and then finding your place.

“Students should know that we exist and that we are here,” Baralt said. “We are a resource to the campus.”