Amanda Lawson (Class of 2015)

  • photo of Amanda Lawsonjunior double major in History and Latin American Studies
  • minors in Spanish and Entrepreneurship
  • from Lima, OH
  • president of Lespwa 4 Haiti, a student organization focusing on education in Haiti
  • spent Spring Break in Haiti as a freshman to bring educational materials and food to children and families

I'd absolutely recommend other students to embark on these kinds of experiences … Go outside of your comfort zone, because you learn a lot and will change for the better when that happens. Do some things that scare you, things that in high school you wouldn't have done.


Why Miami?

"My older brother went here, and that was really what my parents were comfortable with. I'm from Ohio, but when I looked at the other public universities there really wasn't any question—Miami was the place for me. But when I started here, I had this Hollywood movie expectation that instantly my life was going to be perfect and everything was going to be great—but that's not what it is. You have to feel out different things and see the things that you like and the things you don't like. And it took about a semester, but once second semester came around it was awesome.

"I came in as an anthropology major, but then just through taking different Miami Plan classes and other things like that … I just always had a love for history, and I realized that there are options in history. So I decided that I wanted to do something that I really loved, not just something that I thought would get me a big paycheck."

Best Experiences as a Miami Student

enlarged photo of Amanda Lawson and friends at hockey game"I love the Miami and Oxford community. I have gotten to be pretty good friends with people who live around town, including many locals. If I was someone who had always lived here, it might feel different, but that is not my experience. The people that I've gotten to know, both here in Miami and all over Oxford, have been really cool.

"But some of my best experiences at Miami don't really count as campus or town experiences, because going to Haiti for a week my freshman year was really great. It was just so eye opening. I didn't really realize it until I got back. I was kind of expecting to have this big epiphany moment while I was there, and that didn't happen until the day I returned, when I went to eat with my dad at a restaurant uptown. I was just like, 'What just happened?' My perspective and entire outlook just completely changed right then and there. Several other students had gone with me that I still see on a regular basis, and so I know that Haiti wasn't just this great dream that I had—it actually did happen and I have people that I can still talk to about it."

Best Class at Miami

"There are some history classes that I really enjoyed here. I had already loved history in high school, but I think more than that, history professors here at Miami don't give you the impression that they're teaching because they're professors and they can get funding to do research because of it—instead, you can tell that they're actually doing it because it's something they love and it's something that they want other people to love too. I think that's awesome.

"I've taken a lot of cross-listed history and Latin American studies classes. I love studying! Looking at the United States, I love history from World War II through the 1970s—that's a really interesting time period. When you look at the different social and political groups and things that were going on in that time period—I mean, you have World War II, you have Vietnam from military standpoints, and then you have hippies and the civil rights movement and everything. It's so, so interesting."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"Coming into Miami, my perspective and motivations were probably not the greatest. I was more interested in having a big paycheck than doing something I enjoyed. But having the liberal arts background and taking the variety of classes to fit the requirements, having to take so many different kinds of classes, it forces you to see different things and meet different people who are interested in different things and see professors who have done and experienced and learned so much that I haven't. Just seeing how everybody kind of pulls from these different areas gives you more of an all-encompassing experience rather than one specific comparative advantage. You're more of a total package.

"So I think students should explore it. Take classes and try different things. Don't just pigeon-hole yourself into one, like 'I'm only going to take history classes' or 'I'm only going to take sociology.' Take different classes until you figure out really where you want to be. That's one reason why I'm double majoring!"

Helping Children in Haiti

enlarged photo of Amanda Lawson holding Haitian child"Lespwa 4 Haiti is a student organization that was founded at Miami University 3-4 years ago. My brother, who was a student here, was part of it, and that's how I found out about it. I've been involved since I was a freshman, rising up, becoming PR chair last year, and now I'm the President.

"Our focus has always been education in Haiti. There's a really wide disparity there, because there is no public school system and very few families can afford to send their kids to school. This year we've been taking another look at that, because the kids that are going to school aren't getting enough to eat and aren't getting proper nutrition, so they're not able to retain what they are learning. Sometimes they're too sick to even go to school. So we've really been focusing on not only getting kids in school, but also making sure that the kids that are there are getting the education that they're paying for.

"Going to Haiti two years ago has definitely been a very interesting and big adventure. I went with 8 other classmates, and it was an amazing week. We had three Haitian translators with us the entire time. Usually the first question I get is, 'Haiti is a scary country. Were you safe?' I have actually felt safer a week in Haiti than I did visiting my brother in Boston! We all bonded and got really close.

"I think that so many times you hear comments like, 'Oh, look at this squalor that people live in and how sad this is.' Yeah, there are a lot of things that we as Americans are blessed with that they don't have in Haiti and I wish that was different, and that's part of the reason I'm in this organization.

"But when you meet the people and you talk to them, they're so joyful and they want to talk to you and get to know you. They would give you everything they have if you needed it. They actually have something that we don't: a different sense of community, the village-raising-the-child mentality.

"We started in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and ended up traveling, spending most of our time in Gressier, which on Haitian roads and traffic is about three hours out of Port-au-Prince. We were in a tent city there to work with the children. This was after the earthquake, and so a lot of homes were destroyed and people were in makeshift tents everywhere. We gave students little books that education majors and people who knew Creole had put together so they would still be able to learn even if their schools were destroyed or if they didn't have the opportunity to go to school. We worked with them and their families for three days.

"We then went to a village called Bonga that was up in the mountains. We had to hike there. The road ended, road being a very loose term, so we had to hike to the top. But we had taken food so we could make the villagers peanut butter sandwiches. Everyone in the village, about 250 people, was piled up into this church that doubled as a school, and we gave them all juice and peanut butter sandwiches. But not one person ate until every person had their food, and they were just so grateful and happy.

"We had one mom come up to us and say, 'I didn't know how I was going to feed my kids today.' At first, I was like, 'Oh, that's so sweet, that's so nice,' and then I realized that she said 'today', not 'dinner'. Her kids weren't going to eat, at all. I think that was also part of the motivation this year, really focusing on these kids who have the opportunity to go to school—they're still not eating, and that's a huge issue.

"I had a nice childhood and didn't have to suffer or struggle. And I came back from Haiti, where maybe just one person that I met there that week is going to have the experience of going to college, if they're lucky. One person out of the thousands that I met. I am so blessed to be here at Miami, even when I don't want to go to class and do my homework. That experience in Haiti has totally changed my perspective."

Advice to Students

"I'd absolutely recommend other students to embark on these kinds of experiences. My experiences abroad have been crazy and like nothing I had anticipated, but so rewarding. So I'd tell other students not to go somewhere just because your friends are going or because your friends or family have gone. Go outside of your comfort zone, because you learn a lot and will change for the better when that happens. Do some things that scare you, things that in high school you wouldn'[t have done. That's how you change. That's how things grow and get better."

[September 2013]