A Writer and Softball Star Evolving at Amherst
Issue   |   Thu, 05/18/2017 - 20:41
Lauren Tuiskula '17
Tuiskula will be a post-baccalaureate fellow for the English department, both assisting professors and pursuing her own research.

Julia Turner ’19 first met Lauren Tuiskula when Turner visited Amherst on a softball recruitment trip as a high school sophomore.

“I remember being intimidated by all of the players,” Turner said, “except Lauren.” Tuiskula put Turner at ease with a “full smile on her face.”

“She kept asking me everything about myself,” said Turner, who also works with Tuiskula on The Amherst Student. “I remember her saying, ‘Oh my gosh, you like to read, you like to write, you play softball, we’re basically the same person!’ Lauren is just one of those people who takes you under her wing.”

At Amherst, Tuiskula has been involved in The Student, the women’s softball program, Amherst Splash, Campus Activities Board and Native American studies research. She led the newspaper as editor in chief, captained the softball team, served as co-president of Splash and produced a critical digital humanities thesis. But across all these interests, nothing was more clear than her heart for other people.

Childhood in “Very Small” Leicester
Tuiskula grew up an only child in Leicester, Massachusetts, a “very small town — not very diverse in terms of composition — composition of opinions or background.” Excluding some fluctuation, her academic class was composed of the same 100 kids through all 12 grades.

She participated in a variety of sports, but softball was always her favorite and best sport. She played in youth leagues in Leicester, forming relationships and learning the nuances of the sport. One summer, she ended up playing on a travel team and, from there, continued playing in high school for college recruitment.

Her passion for sports led to another development. Having grown up watching sports shows with her dad, “I remember thinking, ‘I want to be a sports journalist — I’ll be on ESPN,’” she said.

Like her other interests, once Lauren developed a passion for sports journalism, she went out of her way to become involved in any way possible. She worked at Leicester Cable Access and reported play-by-plays of recreational games. She also joined her high school newspaper, which was “literally eight pages of printer paper stapled together, monthly,” she said. But the experience was valuable, and she began concentrating her college options on schools where she could play softball and study journalism or communications.

She happened upon Amherst by chance, when the softball coach sent her an email about recruitment. “But then I did some research, went on the tour and just fell in love with everything that makes Amherst Amherst,” she said.

In that moment, Tuiskula believed she would still be able to follow her communications plan by majoring in English and Film and Media Studies. “But in hindsight, I’m very happy that I did not go to a communications school,” she said. “I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to branch out.”

Making the Most of Amherst
In her first few months at Amherst, Tuiskula was “really, really nervous.”

“I had good grades in high school, but it’s that feeling everyone has — ‘you don’t deserve to be here’ — that type of thing,” she said. “People from my high school don’t usually go to NESCAC schools, so I was really nervous coming and felt like I couldn’t do it.”

She soon found, however, that Amherst had supports in place for her to succeed. Her Learn, Explore, Activate and Participate program, a three-day Community Engagement Orientation Trip (CEOT), ignited a curiosity for hearing other people’s stories. Tuiskula’s CEOT group was “weirdly intimate right away.” Sitting in a circle telling stories, Tuiskula realized the significance of making connections with people from different backgrounds.

“That was when I was like, ‘Whoa, this is what I’m getting myself into. This is awesome,’” she said. “Just hearing stories did this huge thing. First of all, you connect with people on a different level because you know where they’re coming from but also you learn so much.”

As a student whose favorite subject was English all through high school, Tuiskula knew she enjoyed writing and wanted to major in English. “Reading, Writing and Teaching,” a course she took in her first year, became a community in which “you were coming together for school but also because people genuinely enjoyed material and wanted to talk to each other about it,” she said. “That’s where that possibility opened up for me, and those classes actually felt like a community that I had never ever experienced in a classroom before.”

Stepping up to the Plate
When she first joined the Amherst softball team, Tuiskula was extremely shy. “There’s a joke that I didn’t talk at all until April,” she said. “It was probably some of these feelings of inadequacy, and also being a freshman and being afraid.”

Since her first year, however, Tuiskula has grown more confident. Now, as captain, she looks back with pride on the program’s transformation in her four years here.

In her first year, Tuiskula said the program was rather contained. The members of the team tended to keep to themselves, and the team wasn’t very active in supporting interests outside of softball. But as the team changed and evolved, so did the team culture.

As one of the softball leaders who helped create the impetus for pursuing networks outside of softball, Tuiskula said she feels like a “proud mom” seeing the ways her teammates have shown initiative in stepping outside their circles and speaking up.

Newspaper: The Highlight of Her Amherst Experience
Tuiskula joined The Student in the fall of her first year as a sports writer, covering field hockey, squash and track and field for a year and a half before being promoted to managing sports editor in the spring of her sophomore year. In the spring of her junior year, she took over as co-editor in chief with Elaine Jeon ’17 and continued as sole editor in chief her senior fall after Jeon left to focus on other activities.

Spencer Quong ’18, who came to see Tuiskula as an older sister and role model through working on the paper together, said he admired the way Tuiskula “was always so assertive but in a way that wasn’t too overbearing.”

“She always stuck to her opinion on edits and didn’t let you push back too much, but while still being reasonable,” Quong said.

For Tuiskula, journalism is all about having the power to take underrepresented narratives and put them on a platform. It was during Amherst Uprising, a sit-in that occurred in her junior fall and — according to its website — expressed solidarity with black college students nationwide “who experience the daily effects of white supremacy in academia,” that Tuiskula realized the power of the press and began to play a larger role on the paper.

“Because we had all these outside outlets trying to spin the story, even if people were, ‘Oh, it’s just a student newspaper,’ we knew how important it was to get a real story out there of what was actually happening,” she said. “The spotlight was going to be on our story.”

What she will remember most from newspaper, however, isn’t the big stories or exciting transitions. What she will remember are the conversations she shared with the people on The Student. On Tuesday nights in the newspaper office, Tuiskula said that despite the late hour, the editing staff would still be carrying on deep, meaningful conversations.

“Doing the work is great and interacting with people and getting editing skills and things,” Tuiskula said, “but what actually matters is those moments in Keefe where you’re all together and you’re working, but you take a break and talk about things that are happening on campus — that was the best part of newspaper.”

Expanding Her World of Possibilities
Tuiskula made it a point to take advantage of as much as she could at Amherst, seeking out different experiences, different friends, different voices and different stories. In her sophomore year, she took a Native American studies course with Associate Professor of English and American Studies Lisa Brooks. The material in the course, which was about history that has traditionally been silenced and marginalized, struck a chord with Tuiskula.

“This is the history no one is supposed to know,” she said. “And I didn’t get that in high school, that’s for sure.”

She stayed on as a research assistant, working with Brooks on a book project that retells King Philip’s War from the Native American perspective and maps colonial space as Native space. Leicester, her hometown, was one of the places she mapped for Brooks.

“Being exposed to things I either wasn’t supposed to know or didn’t know and knowing that truth was out there, I just became very curious in learning as much as I could,” she said.

Brooks referred to Tuiskula as a “brilliant mind and a great team player.”

“It was easy for her to ask other students for help if she could see that they had skills in some area she wanted to learn; she never had any qualms about that,” she said. “But at the same time, she was also completely willing to do the same [for other students]. … She’s somebody who just really thrives where she can think and work with other people.”

This year, Tuiskula continued her exploration of different narratives by writing a thesis on the novel “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Focusing on the digital aspects of the novel, Tuiskula looked at how the digital affects identity and composed her thesis entirely online, hoping to “give readers some sort of agency in the way they interact with it — that’s the merit of the digital.”

After Amherst
Throughout her four years at Amherst, Tuiskula chose again and again to step out of her comfort zone and pursue differences. Next year, she will remain on campus, working for the English department as a post-baccalaureate fellow.

She hopes to eventually go to graduate school and pursue a career in journalism. But no matter where she goes or what she does, Tuiskula will always remember the people she has gotten to know when she reflects on Amherst.

“The relationships that I’ve been able to form and the people I’ve gotten to meet and the things I’ve gotten to learn through these people, from professors, staff and students — you’re not going to get that through studies,” she said.

Outside of the classroom and academic spaces, the activities that have been dear to Tuiskula, such as newspaper and softball, have also paved the way for her to form defining relationships.

“The people here are absolutely incredible,” Tuiskula said. “And being able to make something out of it, I think, is really special.”

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