Vanessa Marr, professor of women’s and gender studies at Eastern Michigan University, is an educator, an activist and someone who is concerned about the ways in which education and finding ways to connect with environmental learning impact the lives of people and their communities.
“I see myself as a community-centered scholar,” she said. “A lot of my scholarship comes from really connecting with people who are working towards transformation in their communities.“
She has participated in projects such as The Heidelberg Project in Detroit as well as being involved with the Boggs Center. And has worked within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community to promote awareness on issues affecting lesbians of color.
Marr’s activism takes many forms, from growing and cooking food and introducing others to vegan lifestyles to educating individuals on social and environmental injustices.
Growing up in Saginaw, she remembers her own connections with nature and being in love with learning. She said she was often a loner as a result of being a book nerd and spent a great deal of time outside playing in the woods or along the railroad tracks – wherever she could just be free.
“I used to tell people that I could talk to animals,” Marr said. “ And here I am, really big on ecofeminism and environmental justice. Maybe I already knew what my path was going to be.”
As a student at Arthur Hill High School, she felt that the classroom was a safe haven from her dysfunctional life at home.
“There would be a stampede after school and I would be the one who would stay and talk with teachers, do homework, or clean the chalkboards,” she said. “I wanted to feel safe and I felt safe in the classroom.”
Now, as a teacher, her goals are to provide a safe space for her students and to encourage them to think about gender and sexuality, and how the two play out in their everyday lives as well as the larger scheme of things.
“She’s very enthusiastic and happy all the time. She loves teaching and loves her job,” said Jennifer Stavros, administrative assistant in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. “She’s just great to be around.”
But teaching was not what Marr envisioned for herself during the pursuit of her education. It wasn’t until she attended a conference at the Michigan Academy at Central Michigan University, with a former professor, that it became clear that it was what she is destined to do.
“I went to this conference and just did this belly-flop of a presentation,” she said. “And on the way back to Saginaw, she said to me, ‘I know you don’t want to hear this, Vanessa, but I really hear a teacher in your voice.’ I wanted to push her face in the snow.”
Marr said she still laughs about that day, but knows that this is her calling and that she is a dedicated teacher as well as a student.
“I an expert on anything? Not really. To me, it’s an opportunity to connect with people, to connect with the world,” she said. “Every morning I wake up and I find those opportunities and I consider myself blessed beyond measure.”