Agent of Change

The U of I helped me turn personal struggles into a professional path

The U of I helped me turn personal struggles into a professional path

Kaytlin Reedy-Rogier holding Womens Center Sign

After being profoundly changed by her experiences with facilitation and activism at Illinois, Kaytlin Reedy-Rogier went on to a career developing health equity and anti-racism curricula.(Image courtesy of Kaytlin Reedy-Rogier)

I first stepped foot on campus in 2002—a high school freshman from downstate Illinois, there to prove my mettle in a marching band competition. I got off the bus outside Assembly Hall, breathed in the crisp fall air, and simply knew that this was where I would go to college.

Four years later, I moved into the Illinois Street Residence Halls, and soon experienced the hardest, but most transformative time of my life.

Within weeks, two seemingly unrelated things would change the trajectory of my future.

The first was that I was diagnosed with clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I had come to Illinois to pursue a psychology degree, thinking that I would become a therapist, but navigating my own therapy caused me to reconsider.

The second was that I attended the mandatory First-Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education (FYCARE) program, which framed sexual assault as a tool of oppression and taught me to understand how oppression functions and the ways that it disproportionately impacts minority communities.

FYCARE introduced me to the concept of facilitation, which sent me down a new professional path.

It also was through FYCARE that I discovered gender and women’s studies and, as a budding feminist, found an intellectual home.

Ultimately, the convergence of these paths made me an activist, when I helped to create the University’s Women’s Resources Center, in 2009.

My foray into activism began with a community forum about what a campus women’s center could and should be. It included a mock opening of a women’s center on the Quad, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by the press, a sit-in outside the administration offices, countless petition-signing drives, and late-night strategy sessions. One-and-a-half years later, we had an office space above a bank—a real Center—on the corner of Green and Wright streets.

The following year, I graduated and went straight into the Master’s of Social Work program at Washington University in St. Louis, where I’m now director of health equity and justice in its School of Medicine. There, I guide physicians-in-training to think about those same principles I learned in FYCARE at Illinois—asking them to imagine what would happen if they dismantled the systems of oppression within health care.

Today, doing this work I was meant to do, it’s hard for me to remember the freshman who felt isolated and depressed and had frightening thoughts about her own self-worth.

But it’s easy for me to remember the roles that FYCARE and the Women’s Resources Center played in my story—in helping me discover the person I was to become.

Kaytlin Reedy-Rogier lives in an old firehouse with her partner, Ben (also a U of I alum), their kids (Charlie and Henry), dogs (Frank and Beans) and cats (Disco and Nacho).

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