OU's activist-in-residence uses poetry for causes
With a click from her computer, “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. filled the room. Lauren Zuniga stood up and encouraged her audience to dance. She told them to shake loose, since they had been in class all day.
A few students hesitantly followed her instructions. Slowly, the atmosphere of the room began to relax.
“When I got the email to come speak, I thought you couldn’t find anyone else really,” Zuniga joked with her audience.
Zuniga is this semester’s activist-in-residence on campus. OU’s Center for Social Justice Activist-in-Residence Program is in its third year, program coordinator Caitlin Campbell said.
Each semester the program accepts nominations to bring activists from around the nation to campus to teach classes and host events, Campbell said.
Zuniga is the fifth activist-in-residence to be brought in by the program, she said.
Zuniga is a performance poet who said she uses her poetry as a means of activism.
She has competed in eight national poetry competitions, performed at the TEDx Conference held on campus and was nominated for State Poet Laureate, she said.
Women’s and gender studies junior Christina Wolf said she had researched Zuniga before she came to campus.
“I looked [Lauren Zuniga’s poetry] up on YouTube, and it was awesome, so I had to see it in person,” Wolf said.
Wolf, who attended the day’s session with Zuniga, said she was not disappointed.
As Zuniga’s session continued, she explained to students that she did not think of herself as an activist until recently.
“Poetry is a tool to reach everybody, and I didn’t want to divide anyone, so at first I didn’t want to use it [as a form of activism],” she said.
That was until Oklahoma legislators passed a law restricting women’s reproductive rights. She wrote a poem titled “To the Oklahoma Lawmakers” in response to this law. Zuniga said this first form of activism taught her a lot about her poetry. She said she learned that the more you create, the more you are going to be judged, but she is okay with that.
She said she now writes and performs poems with topics ranging from the painful stories of women in prison to energy drinks to society’s inability to notice the important things in life. Asian studies and Chinese senior Kacee Rachels said she attended Zuniga’s session because she was interested in how Zuniga was inspired to use her art.
Zuniga said poetry was her own form of therapy and encouraged aspiring artists and activists to go out and seek inspiration in life and the other artists around them, as well as in the community that shares their interests.
Zuniga’s next event on campus will be part of a reception for the Take Root Conference at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24 in the Thurman J. White Forum Building.