Mentor Fosters Community Across Boundaries
Issue   |   Thu, 05/19/2016 - 19:40
Annika Ngryen '16
A European Studies major, Nygren’s thesis explored the nature of romance on college campuses.

When describing Annika Nygren, no one could have done a more eloquent job than her friend Mercedes MacAlpine ’16, who presented Nygren as “pretty much sunshine in human form.”
“Her smile is radiant, her positivity and sincerity are contagious, her mind is always working, and her resting state is one of compassion and harmony,” MacAlpine said.
This captures exactly why Nygren has made a profound impact on the Amherst community. one doesn’t have to be a triple major extraordinaire, a class president or a musical prodigy to be remembered by their peers after graduation. Nygren will be remembered because she was the friend who always extended her compassionate hands to anyone who felt overwhelmed or insecure at least once on this campus that often exhausts us. And during her four years at Amherst, Nygren reminded her peers that despite the college’s flaws, there is still gratitude and love to be shown about the opportunities present at Amherst.

Bleeding Purple On and Off the Field
Raised in Sudbury, Massachusetts, Nygren was searching for three main criteria in her dream college: an academic challenge, a great field hockey program and somewhere only a driving distance away.
Nygren knew that she wanted a small community, in which she had the opportunity to not only get to know the professors, but also have them get to know her on a personal level. “I was always a big nerd,” Nygren confessed with a laugh. “I loved school and always got along with teachers — not to say that I didn’t struggle at all.”
Once she learned of the open curriculum and the availability of discussion-based courses at Amherst, Nygren decided, “I’m applying early decision, and I’m going to have purple babies, and that’s that.”
Field hockey was another important facet of Nygren’s life that she wanted to continue pursuing in college. “I always knew I wanted to play sports at college because I love being on a team — I love working towards a common goal together with other people,” Nygren said. She added that she needed sports as an outlet for the amount of energy she emits.
While field hockey played a significant role in her life, the field hockey team at Amherst was even more important in shaping her time at the college. Some of the biggest role models in her life were her teammates and she couldn’t imagine what her four years at Amherst would have been without the team.
“I’m biased, of course, but field hockey has always had a badass set of people,” Nygren said. “When we are in season, we are all 100 percent in it. But we also all do so much on this campus from environmental work to dancing to student government — someone is involved in something. I was so lucky to come into school with older role models who told me to get involved.”
Surely enough, Nygren channeled her teammates’ wisdom into action by staying involved on campus as best as she could. She served as the captain of the field hockey team during her senior year, as well as being an Athletic Team Engagement Leader. And in the past four years, Nygren was a resident counselor, a tour guide, a Mental Health Task Force Representative, a Mental Health and Wellness Team Member and an Amherst College Student Support Network facilitator. In addition to this illustrious list, she puts a cherry on top that is the most apparently related to her character: Nygren is the president of the Random Acts of Kindness Club.
“She jumped into Amherst with both feet from day one and never looked back,” her friend Cristian Navarro ’16 said. “She made the most of each day here through her extensive involvement in leadership across campus and the way she connected with those around her.”

Teaching at the Prison
As a European studies major, Nygren took complete advantage of the open curriculum and bolted full speed ahead to pursue her interests. She attributes some of her most exciting ideas to courses taught by Professor Ilan Stavans, with whom she took six classes. Ultimately, her fascination with Stavans’ teaching led to her becoming a teaching assistant for his seminar course, “Shakespeare in Prison,” this spring.
Taught at the Hampshire County Jail, the class combined Amherst students and inmates in an intellectual pursuit of better understanding Shakespeare’s masterworks. The course met once a week, but as a TA, Nygren had the opportunity to also spend time with inmate students on Mondays and Fridays in order to tutor them one-on-one.
It was “by far the coolest thing I’ve done at Amherst,” Nygren exclaimed. “This semester, we haven’t lost a single student and almost every single student came to the TA sessions. This has been a beautiful culmination of my Amherst education because it reminds me of how lucky I am to go here and go to college in general.”
As a student interested in teaching, it was rewarding for Nygren to see her inmate students’ “excitement for school.” She felt sheer joy each time they were excited, even if just for a moment, and collaborated with one another. “Imagine reading Shakespeare without ‘No Fear Shakespeare’ or the Internet,” Nygren said. “And their papers have been wild. For them, writing five pages was hard at first and it took a lot of coaxing, brainstorming and editing and more editing. But in the end, they did it.” Her experience reaffirmed her passion for teaching.

Exploring Modern Romances in American Colleges
As senior year rolled around, Nygren was committed to writing an honors thesis that would encompass her education and the interactions she had during her four years on campus. After studying abroad in Madrid, she became more curious about romance and intimacy on college campuses, and eventually narrowed it down to an exploration of “hookup culture.”
“I was interested in this topic because hookup culture is obviously something that is so prevalent on this campus, and after talking to friends at other schools, it seemed pretty real everywhere,” Nygren said.
She was alarmed by hookup culture as a concept. She said she had been personally affected by this social phenomenon at a certain point in college and she felt it caused problems in areas she was passionate about: mental health education, community building and human interaction. Nygren didn’t intend for her thesis to be a solution for anyone, but rather a fight for a significant community change to happen on the Amherst campus and elsewhere in the United States.
“I was so tired of watching my predominantly female friends, who I see as passionate, driven, intelligent and successful people, put their worth into one person on some Saturday night and become shattered and baffled,” Nygren said.
After a year of academic exploration and many interviews, Nygren created a collection of short stories and essays that juxtaposed romances on U.S. college campuses with her experience studying abroad in Spain. Her thesis touched upon a variety of topics including technology, parental relationships and influences, sexual assault and former relationships. And Nygren’s work allowed her to seize incredible opportunities like attending the United Nations conference on women and sustainable development. “It was empowering to hear lawyers and activists and all these professionals fight for our sisters — it was really beautiful,” Nygren said.
Stavans found Nygren’s thesis to be a fascinating way of combining her education with modern-day problems that are so pertinent to our lives on campus. Stavans remarked that questions like “Is romance an endangered feeling? Has sex become the only objective? Do young people still experience the mystery associated with love?” were imperative aspects of Nygren’s work, and said, “Annika is courageous, passionate and inquisitive. It is difficult to imagine anyone being more profoundly shaped by a liberal arts education. I have learned much from Annika.”

The Next Step
Just as many other seniors typically are, Nygren was reluctant to think about her future, but one thing was clear to her. “I wasn’t ready to leave academia and the world of education,” she said.
So much of the work she has done on campus has all centered on the theme of how to give back to the community through teaching. Furthermore, Nygren spent last summer leading two bike tours of 14-17 year olds across Montana. These puzzle pieces finally came together and she decided that she’ll be moving to Boulder, Colorado to teach kindergarteners. She also plans on working towards a graduate degree in early childhood education.
“Talking to and working with people — that’s what I do best,” Nygren said. “It’s a good next step for me. I foresee myself working with young people for the rest of my life … It’s because I will always be 12 years old at heart.”
As Nygren wraps up her senior year, she has been reflecting on what she has seen, felt and experienced on campus. She recognized that she had an “epic freshman year” and that she “was reluctant to notice a lot of the stress amongst my peers.” When she became a resident counselor her sophomore year, she began to see a need for fundamental changes to create a more cohesive community at the college.
“It comes down to being willing to put your work aside to create the community,” Nygren said. “I miss sitting in the freshman common room until 3 a.m. and I feel like we sometimes lose that excitement to learn about each other after freshman year.”
But she said ultimately, being part of this community is still what pushed her through any struggle. One of her favorite recent moments at Amherst was attending the Amherst Soul showcase this year. The event presented student acts of spoken poetry, dancing and yo-yoing, among others, and she said watching these performances made her realize “now that is why I came here.”

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