Alex Vlasic, '11, became a feminist in the fifth grade.

Because her elementary school’s uniforms prohibited girls from wearing pants, Vlasic created a petition to change the policy.

Her unwillingness to accept the status quo led her to the University of Richmond, where she joined Women Involved in Living and Learning (WILL). She soon realized, however, that the program wasn’t just about feminism.

“The first classes I took really opened my eyes,” Vlasic said. “It’s not just about women. It’s about class and race and a wide range of social issues. One of the things that drew me to it was it applied to my life, more so than other classes.”

Along with her involvement in WILL, Vlasic has helped stage “The Vagina Monologues” on campus for the past three years and is a member of the environmental group GreenUR. She is also the student coordinator for Common Ground’s Diversity Roundtable, which brings together student organizations to create alliances and bonds throughout the campus.

Vlasic is majoring in French and international studies with a concentration on Africa. She is also minoring in women, gender and sexuality studies. In April, Vlasic will present at the Associated Colleges of the South’s Women’s and Gender Studies conference on a paper she wrote on women and femininity while studying abroad in Cameroon.

Vlasic spent the fall of 2009 in France, then traveled to Cameroon for the spring semester. There, as part of an independent research project for her study abroad program, she interviewed women — in French — about the importance of bearing and raising children to femininity, focusing on a specific ethnic group.

Vlasic asked the women about how having children had impacted their lives, about infertility and about whether women had a choice to have children.

“Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it’s really a cultural imperative to have children,” she said. “A woman who chooses not to have children doesn’t exist. It was really fascinating.”

Through compiling and translating all her interviews with African women into a paper, Vlasic was able to combine all her academic interests into a single thesis. She will present the paper at the ACS conference, “Emancipatory Knowledge: Women's and Gender Studies NOW!” when it takes place on the University of Richmond campus April 1–2.

Vlasic also has continued to pursue her academic interest in Cameroon by writing her international studies thesis on the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project, which was funded by the World Bank. While in Cameroon, she learned about the project and even had the opportunity to meet Dan Murphy, director of the World Bank’s operations in Cameroon.

“It makes me wonder,” she said, “if I hadn’t gone abroad, what would I have written my thesis on? It’s really nice to be able to continue things I was thinking about while abroad. To connect my studies here with my abroad experience was just really great.”