By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Lehigh women’s lacrosse sophomore Taylor Tvedt didn’t work a typical summer job. Instead, a passion to make a difference turned into an opportunity to help youngsters and ultimately, save lives.
This past summer, Tvedt worked in a grassroots campaign focused on ending LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) bullying in schools. She served as one of several advocates for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading civil rights organization that seeks justice for victims of discrimination.
“I knew I’d get a lot more out of this opportunity than a typical job,” said Tvedt. “Even though I was on my feet most of the time and working extremely hard, at the end of the day, I always really enjoyed going back.”
What Tvedt had to look forward to every day was making a difference in the lives of others. The Minneapolis campaign of the Southern Poverty Law Center opened this summer. Since Taylor is interested in political science, social issues are a big interest of hers and as someone who can relate to these LGBT students, she felt an immediate desire to help.
“This is something I’m really passionate about,” said Tvedt. “I was fortunate enough to not experience such extreme bullying when I was younger, but I’ve definitely seen it all across the state and I’ve heard horror stories, especially with students coming out to their parents and not being accepted by their own families, not to mention their friends.
“I think I’m in a good place in my life that I should reach out to others who are struggling,” she continued. “Since I can help them through this kind of process, it was definitely something I wanted to do.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center was recruiting team members to jumpstart their campaign so Tvedt applied, interview and accepted the 40-hour per week position which began towards the end of May when she first arrived home for the summer.
LGBT bullying has become a significant issue in Tvedt’s area. In 2012 alone, one school district saw seven suicides of LGBT students that had killed themselves following bullying.
“The school district had no policies implemented to help minority students,” said Tvedt. “The original policy was to basically don’t ask, don’t tell. The school district didn’t help children and didn’t teach tolerance for anyone. It was all children for themselves.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center took action and attempted to help change the policies. However, since the school district wasn’t cooperating, the center pursued legal actions. Those actions ultimately helped create change.
“Starting in 2013, that school district completely changed its policies and the teachers reported a night-and-day difference,” said Tvedt, who admits this is an extreme example, but it occurs more often than we’d like to think. “Now, they’re helping children more and teaching tolerance.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t like to sue, but if nothing else works, it’s willing to take those actions.
“The center sues if necessary to draw attention to the school districts and force them to change if they’re not complying,” said Tvedt. ”
The Southern Poverty Law Center is focused on education. Not only does the center attempt to implement new school policies, but it also provides teaching tolerance materials.
“There’s a video called bullied we all watched, which was really interesting,” said Tvedt. “There are also follow-up materials (free of charge). There are tolerance-based activities, in hopes of helping children understand tolerance at a young age before they get older and have set ideas about certain people.
The Southern Poverty Law Center gives free lessons to the schools, which should make them more likely to accept and move forward with the initiative.
Tvedt’s role this summer was as an advocate for the center. LGBT bullying flies under the radar, so people don’t realize its seriousness.
“We made calls, spreading the word and letting people know about the cause,” she said. “I was also on the streets canvassing, trying to raise money, talking to people and recruiting people to become members. People give monthly donations because it’s a completely nonprofit organization; the organization depends on these contributions.”
Tvedt and her colleagues received some resentment.
“Since it was a new group in Minneapolis and pretty new to the Midwest, some people were a little bit hesitant to talk to us,” she said. “It’s such a widely-known organization, especially on the East and West coasts. The Southern Poverty Law Center actually has its largest team in Philadelphia.
“I learned a lot just from talking to other people and getting other people’s opinions,” Tvedt continued. “I talked to a lot of people who didn’t agree, so I had to balance trying to be respectful of others’ opinions. It could be frustrating at times, but it was definitely a great learning experience.”
Despite her busy summer, Tvedt made sure to stay sharp on the lacrosse field. Backing up recently graduated goalkeeper Alexandra Fitzpatrick last season, Tvedt knows things will be different entering 2015 without the two-time All-Patriot League honoree. Taylor will have an opportunity to earn the starting job in her sophomore campaign.
“This summer, I was working a lot, but also trying to mentally prepare for the season,” said Tvedt. “I worked on confidence and mental toughness because that’s what the goalie position is predominantly about.”
Tvedt and Fitzpatrick have different styles in goal, so the mental side of the game is what Taylor learned most from Alex.
“Mostly, she taught me great leadership qualities. I also learned and admired how she stayed mentally tough in the cage when we were down,” said Tvedt. “She got in her own zone and taught me how to focus on myself and not worry so much about everything else on the field.”
The mindset for Tvedt is much different going into her sophomore season, understandably so. She has a year of college lacrosse under her belt and knows what to expect.
“Last summer, I was intimidated by Alex and the whole thought of the Division I level,” said Taylor. “I was nervous going into the season, but I definitely developed more confidence in myself as the season progressed. This year, I know the girls, I know the coaching staff and I know how everything goes.”
Early this fall season, there has been strong team chemistry.
“We’re all really excited and on the same page,” said Tvedt. “Everyone worked really hard over the summer. I’m one year older, so I feel like I can step up and have a little bit more of a leadership position on the team.”
On the field, Tvedt looks to save lacrosse balls that are fired her way. Off the field, she is helping save lives. Tvedt may not have personally stopped a single bully, but she was part of a larger initiative that’s bigger than any one person.
With the efforts of people like Taylor, the hope is that lives lost due to LGBT suicide are reduced, and hopefully even eliminated altogether.
“Our coaching staff is proud of Taylor for taking on a challenging summer work experience,” said Lehigh head coach Jill Redfern. “Taylor is a unifier. She is also a very compassionate person who wears her heart on her sleeve. Our team and our staff have no doubt that she is going to do very meaningful work in her life after Lehigh. In the meantime, we are very excited to have her as a high contributor to our very ambitious lacrosse team.”
“I felt good about myself knowing that I was making a difference, and it felt good to know what I was doing every day,” said Tvedt.