North Wind And Sun

Changing Society, One Cause at a Time

Mirah Curzer wants to sue George W. Bush for his involvement in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp – just not right now. Presently, the 22-year-old senior has bigger plans – her June wedding and subsequent year abroad in Israel, for starters – so President Bush’s day of reckoning will have to wait.

An Activist’s Baptism of Fire

Curzer is not a novice to the fine art of legal justice. In 2003, when the Lubbock Independent School District prevented the nascent student Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) from meeting on Lubbock High School property, Curzer along with the rest of the Lubbock High School Gay Straight Alliance worked to overturn the decision. Enlisting the help of gay civil rights organization Lambda Legal, the then 16-years-old Curzer sued the district for violating the First Amendment, the Equal Access Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1871.

The case was big news in and beyond the small conservative town of Lubbock, Texas. Curzer was interviewed by a number of local and national newspapers due to the controversial nature of the case. “I spent my senior year giving interviews to the AP in the bathroom,” she recalled, with a sheepish grin.

Eight months after the suit was filed, a federal judge ruled that the Lubbock GSA would not be allowed to meet on the campus of Lubbock High School, maintaining that sovereignty over activity allowed on campus is reserved for the district alone. The Lubbock Independent School District officials lauded the judge’s decision. Curzer and her friends had lost.

“We could have done more,” she said. “But because we lost, I learned that sometimes the victors and losers aren’t always who they should be. We wanted to win, but we didn’t. Instead of winning the case, we won the public opinion [of Lubbock.] It sounds fuzzy, yeah, but it’s significant.”

Indeed, while many of her high school teachers openly condemned the efforts of the GSA, the number of Lubbock townspeople who backed their cause was a welcome surprise, especially because of the traditional conservative mindset of the area. “Another thing that I learned,” Curzer said, “is that you can’t clasp people. There will always be supporters in unsuspected places.”

Taking the Fight to Amherst … and Beyond

Curzer’s commitment to social justice followed her to the College. In the summer of her sophomore year she joined The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, where she investigated conditions under which sexual assaults occur. Curzer wrote a letter to Congress in an attempt to prevent Congress from passing a law that would send children to adult prisons for certain crimes.

Friends of Curzer appreciate her fervor for her beliefs. “I was immediately struck by Mirah’s passion for social justice work,” said Nora Lawrence ’10, a friend of Curzer’s and regular partner with her in various Amherst Dance projects. “It wasn’t long after we met that we started having lengthy conversations about international human rights concerns. After our first long conversation Curzer said, ‘Nora, come by my room anytime. We’ll talk about how wrong cultural relativists are.’”

This commitment, Curzer hopes, is something on which she can base her future career. As a civil rights lawyer, she intends to tackle the very same issues that she has already exposed herself to gay rights, reproductive rights and prisoners’ rights, among others many other issues. She plans to use the legal system to create societal change and broaden the horizons of our nation’s inclusiveness.

“Mirah seems perfectly cut out for a life as a starving idealist … I mean public interest lawyer,” said fiancé Joshua Stanton ’08. “She is both very motivated to do well in the world and interested in law as a way of getting her ideals enacted. A tough road ahead, certainly one she’s equipped for, without a doubt.”

Indeed, Curzer is well on her way, having already been accepted to New York University Law School. She plans, however, to defer enrollment until 2009. This summer, after their June 15 wedding, Curzer and Stanton will leave for Jerusalem, where Stanton will begin his first year of rabbinical training, and where Curzer intends to delve into what she calls “socially responsible” consulting. No doubt she will continue to pursue social justice with the same determination she has illustrated throughout her highschool and college years.

A Philosopher in School and Life

Curzer dismissed the claims that getting married at such a young age is a misguided decision. “A lot of people tell us we are too young,” she said. “But it’s either this or the possibility of years of STDs and heartbreak with other people.”

Friends agree that Curzer’s outlook carries a level of maturity that belies her age. Longtime friend and first-year roommate Angela Choe ’08 applauded Curzer’s seemingly adult sensibilities. “She is very articulate, not to mention intelligent,” Choe said. “She is good at making you understand and recognize the importance of things that are dear to her – this is slightly different from a blind convincing. She listens to you and talks to you. Even more important, she is such a caring person. She is willing to learn and try new things. Just tell her you need a person to talk to – she’ll come right to you. I admire her energy and courage to do things that she does.”

Stanton concurs, recalling that Curzer’s intelligence and commitment were evident from the first time they met. “I met Mirah through a mutual friend at the Luau Tap our freshman year,” said Stanton. “Taking a quick break from the dance to get a snack at Schwemms, I had the chance to sit down and really get to know her. Mirah’s impressive intellect and deep sense of commitment to her ideals were clear from the start, as was her sense of humor.”

Curzer’s endearing humility is manifest when she discusses her academic enterprises. A philosophy major, Curzer wrote a thesis on desire and motivation, exploring the reasons for human appetite and the concept of the “divided soul.” The topic sounds abstract and thought-provoking, but Curzer makes light of it. “Uhhh, my thesis,” Curzer said. “I don’t really know how I ended up writing about what I did. [It’s] in philosophy of action, and it’s about reasons and desire. Very boring.”

Still, for Curzer, becoming a philosophy major was a no-brainer. Daughter of a Texas Tech University philosophy professor, Curzer grew up immersed in philosophy and grew to love the subject from this exposure. “I’ve wanted to be a philosophy major ever since I can remember,” explained Curzer. “I even used to have Plato’s Cave read to me as a bedtime story.”

A Unique Amherst Experience

Like many Amherst students, however, Curzer was never absolutely certain that Amherst was the place she wanted to spend her college years. “I initially had conflicts about coming to Amherst,” she said, “because it was described as so preppy and jocky. I really wanted to be somewhere that felt like the college experience my dad described.” But her concerns were abated once she got settled in at the College. “I was really surprised when I got here and the jocks were smart. I made friends with people I would never have talked to in high school, and a lot of those friendships were the best I’ve had.”

“Of course, nothing is what we expect it to be,” Curzer noted. “All the things I thought I would be doing, except philosophy and law, are not even on my radar, and I’m doing things I never imagined doing.” Indeed, in addition to her work combating prison rape, Curzer is involved in a host of other campus clubs and publications. A dancer since the seventh grade, Curzer has worked with Amherst Dance for three semesters. Curzer is also a Student Health Educator, member of Hillel and the Amherst Writers and editor-in-chief of Thoughts of Amherst, a publication that she has been involved in since its inception, which publishes the work students which they completed for a course at the College.

That level of activity, Curzer believes, is common on campus. She challenges the notion that Amherst is a listless, passive campus. “A lot of campuses seem active, protesting for the sake of protest,” she said. “Though some would say that Amherst is a bit inactive at times, I would say that just because we put suits on, that doesn’t make us less active. There is more than one way to get things done.”

Curzer’s experiences at Amherst have had a positive, genuinely formative effect on her. “I think my time at Amherst has been about getting comfortable with myself,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from my classes, and it’s really helped me figure out what I think, about philosophy, about religion, about politics. I spent my time here trying to figure out who I am, and now that I’m leaving, I finally like me. I mean, what more could I ask of an education? It made me into a person I’m happy to be.”

(Originally published 1 June 2008 in The Amherst Student.)

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