• YEAR: Senior
  • MAJOR: History and Political Science
  • HOMETOWN: Frankfort , Indiana

Laura Blackburn

With courage and conviction, this history honors student puts her principles for justice and equality into practice as a member of the Purdue Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Advisory Board and the College of Liberal Arts steering committee for the new LGBTQ minor. Laura's not just a student of history — she's a participant in making it.

An activist is born

Laura says she always felt her sexuality was different and became empathetic toward others struggling with their identities, sexual and otherwise. An activist since the age of 18, she speaks about the impact of attending a protest rally and march in San Francisco the day after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

"The country had just elected Barack Obama but California voted against marriage equality," she recalls. "I felt so torn between joy and disappointment, and knew I couldn't be an idle member of the LGBTQ community."

At Purdue, she has been far from idle, assisting with the National Coming Out Day, the LGBTQ Center hiring committee, and the development and implementation of the campus hate and bias reporting system.

Internship with a hero

In 2011, Laura took part in the Victory Congressional Fund Internship Program, assisting one of her heroes, Tammy Baldwin, then Wisconsin's U.S. representative, and now the U.S. Senate's first openly gay member. Her work included public policy research related to LGBTQ, health care and veterans issues.

"I learned that government can work for the people and it is possible to be kind-hearted, passionate, effective and not compromise your values," Laura says.

"Congresswoman Baldwin and her staff showed me that government is not an isolated body of bureaucrats, but an institution that can impact positive change. I received the experience and support that has allowed me to become involved in politics and activism on campus and the surrounding community."

Rendezvous with history

Laura's internship set the stage for her post-Purdue aspirations. In addition to continued public service (and perhaps even politics), Laura plans to earn a doctorate and hopes to teach history at the college level and pass along her passion for history and the law.

"My congressional internship gave me a glimpse into the world of politics, government and power brokering," she says. "I want to be a legal historian, and in order to do that it's helpful to understand how governmental institutions operate."

And she adds: "I would like to move the world forward by using the skills and values I learned at Purdue to better the world and make Purdue a better place for the LGBTQ community."

Being the change

Laura is encouraged by changes she's helped make and foster since she came to campus. The changes include the hiring in 2012 of Lowell Kane, the first director of Purdue's LGBTQ Center. The center puts Purdue in an elite group in higher education: Fewer than 7 percent of American colleges and universities have such a center.

"It shows that the University is serious about inclusion," Laura says of the center. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people simply want to be treated equally. There are quite a few LGBTQ Boilermakers out there who wish to live their lives free from discrimination and inequality."

Laura says meeting AIDS Quilt creator and civil rights activist Cleve Jones at Purdue in December was a profound experience: "It was one of those moments when I realized just how much progress we have made at Purdue and how much there's still to be done."