Junior Emma Kopp was recommended to the Newsroom by Humans of St. Thomas founder and professor of family studies and communication and journalism Carol Bruess. I lightly mentioned this to Kopp when we met at Coffee Bene just before the winter break.
“Really? I think that’s awesome, but I’ve never met her!” she said, flattered to be on the radar of St. Thomas’ resident style maven and relationship pundit.
It took only a few minutes with Kopp, 21, to understand her appeal. Our hourlong conversation took us on many twists and turns, all of them enchanting and unconventional. Kopp spoke in earnest of her commitment to feminism, why she won’t balk from talking about mental illness, and why she holds travel and female friendships close to her heart. To cap it all off she demonstrated, like a pro, how effortless it is to remove a nose ring.
You mentioned before our interview that you’re a women’s studies and American culture and difference double major. What do you plan on doing after you graduate?
I get asked that all the time! My dream would be to write for a feminist publication, but I didn’t come to college to get a job. I came to get an education. Learning has always been very powerful and important to me. I love coming to school, I just don’t like doing the work! [laughs] … I love that I can learn about stuff that interests me. So I think if I keep doing the work that I love then the money will follow. There’s that quote … “Do what you love and the money will follow.” That’s how I maneuver school.
Did you choose to study abroad in Australia for spring semester 2016 for a particular reason?
It’s on my bucket list to make it to every continent in the world, including Antarctica. I knew I probably would never make it to Australia if I didn’t have an absolute reason to go, so I looked there and at a couple other schools and Macquarie University stuck out the most because it’s so big. I’m not used to that. My high school graduating class in Delano was fairly small, and so is St. Thomas, relatively speaking. I’m the only one from St. Thomas who’s going, too, so that will make it seem even bigger.
That sounds kind of intimidating. Do you have a plan for meeting people?
I’m going to wing it. I love doing stuff on my own. I’m an only child, so exploring by myself has always been the status quo. That’s how I’ve met people at St. Thomas. I’m a fairly awkward person when it comes to making friends … I’m a bit of an oversharer and luckily people think that’s funny. Inappropriate comments have made me friends in the past.
I’d love to hear an example.
My current roommate and I are friends because of a very off-color comment I made in front of a roomful of people about how much I love Harry Styles. I’ll leave it at that!
Are you a One Direction fan?
I wouldn’t say they’re the best but I think their music is really good. I used to condemn pop music but now I’m like, it’s OK to like music that doesn’t have substance. Pop music is for fun; it ain’t that deep.
What else gives you the chills?
This might sound cheesy, but female friendships. Camaraderie. Before I got into college I didn’t have many female friends and I had a lot of internalized misogyny. I would think, “I’m not like other girls. I’m better.” Then I realized that wasn’t beneficial or helpful to me mentally or in my relationships regardless of gender. It was after I got into feminism that I realized girls aren’t my enemy and sisterhood is so important. I have made so many amazing female friendships since I’ve come to St. Thomas. It gets me really emotional to think about how supportive my network of friends is.
How did you get involved with FemCom at St. Thomas?
FemCom is my favorite space at St. Thomas. It’s where I’ve made most of my friends and where I’ve made most of my personal growth happen. It’s been beneficial to me as far as growing as a feminist and an activist but also a person as a whole. I got involved as a freshman not knowing anything about FemCom, but I identified as a feminist at the time. It’s sponsored through the Luann Dummer Center for Women, where I work part time – I also work part time at a cafe on Grand Ave. I’ve been a co-facilitator with FemCom since my sophomore year.
A couple random questions for you now. How do you get around town?
I have a 2002 Chevrolet Malibu that I bought for $5,000 after my freshman year here because I needed a car to get to work.
Describe something beautiful you’ve seen in your life.
Getting to the top of Machu Pichu comes to mind first because it [a summer program through St. Thomas’s Office of Study Abroad] was such a seminal experience for me as far as what I was going through at the time. I have really bad anxiety and depression, and right before we left I was working three jobs and struggling to make it through finals. I was struggling with feeling like I wasn’t adequate. I even called home and said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” My mom told me to come home if I needed to, which I did, and I pulled through and did a ton of self-care because I had to make sure I was mentally capable of leaving home even if it was only for 10 days.
Getting to the top of Machu Pichu was symbolic for you.
Totally. My group got up really early to catch the bus and then we hiked a little bit to get to the top … and I’m sorry … this is hard for me … but when we got to the top I felt the weight of the world fall off my shoulders. When my mom picked me up from the airport I burst into tears because I was so happy to still be here. To be alive. … I feel silly for crying in front of you.
I really appreciate you sharing that. It’s not an easy thing to talk about.
I’m very open about my mental health. It’s a topic that is very important to me not only because I deal with depression and anxiety but also because one of my friends killed himself when I was in high school. To be able to talk openly about our feelings is really important.
How do you carve out time for a healthy social life?
I work 30-35 hours a week and I’m taking a full course load, so it’s nice that most of my friends are involved with FemCom and I get to seem them once a week. Plus I live with my best friend, and our roommate who is near and dear to my heart as well.
It’s wonderful that your academic and professional passions can go hand in hand with friendships.
It really is. This is kind of a tangent but I have a lot people I want to be friends with, or better friends with, and I don’t always know how to do that. That’s the hard part … you’re acquainted with someone and you want to be their friend but what do you do about it? Do you go up to them and say, “You’re so intriguing. I want to know more about you. What drives you?” I’m awkward in that sense. There’s a girl in my women’s studies class who I barely knew before class … and it was before my birthday and I walked up to her and said, “This is really strange but I really want to be your friend and my birthday is coming up. Do you want to come to my birthday party?” I felt so socially inept, but I was just thinking about what I would want people to tell me. I’ve had someone from my women’s studies class come up to me and put her hand on mine and say, “I don’t know you, but you are really inspiring to me.” I wanted to cry. It was amazing. The class was small, but we didn’t hang out outside of class or anything. What she did was out of the blue and super touching and that’s my dream. To have an impact on other people’s lives.
I have a feeling a lot of people will want to get to know you after reading this! What do you look for in a friend?
Oh my gosh. I love them all. I think everyone has so much worth. … This sounds so superficial, but their style. If they’re serving looks, then I’m there. I want to be their friend. But more seriously … a drive for equity. Most of my … well, all of my friends identify as feminists to some degree or they’re interested in social justice issues. I have a lot of really radical friends, no pun intended. In the last three years I’ve learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be. Introspection drives me to be a better friend, including to myself. If there’s ever something I want to convey to people it’s kindness. I know that a lot of folks write me off as an angry feminist. And I am sometimes, but it shouldn’t be dismissed and it doesn’t define me.