I met Emma Lezberg ’20 last year at the Jewish Association, and was fascinated by her love of animals and her refugee advocacy work. We met up to discuss karate, twins and chickens.
How did you spend your summer vacation?
I had two jobs this summer. I worked at Hancock Shaker Village on its farm. Hancock Shaker Village is in Pittsfield, Mass., where I’m from, and it’s a living history museum. So, the farm is trying to model what a farm of the Shakers would have been like, but also uses a lot of modern techniques, so we have cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats and donkeys now. And turkeys! I think I got them all. So, I’ve been working there. I started volunteering there seven years ago, and I now am working and that was a great job. And then I also worked for CLiA [the Center for Learning in Action], doing some refugee advocacy work.
Is that the refugee advocacy work you also do throughout the year, through No Lost Generation?
Yes, I was involved in that club last year. No Lost Generation is a refugee and immigrant advocacy group through the State Department. The State Department has tasked campus chapters to support those affected by the ongoing global refugee crisis. The Williams chapter has become a lot broader than that. We’re trying to not only focus on the Syrian refugee crisis, which is mostly what No Lost Generation is involved in, but we’re also doing a lot of local work on diversity and bias and things like that. I got involved in that last year, and then I did some work for CLiA over the summer. Mostly working on websites and meeting with some individuals. We’re doing a lot of presentations this year at different schools.
You obviously love animals – do you have any at home?
Now I do. I was convinced to get chickens three years ago. I have four at home, and they’re wonderful. I built their coop.
You live in Pittsfield. Do you go home a lot?
Not quite every weekend; most weekends now. I do karate at home, in Pittsfield, so I try to get back there for that. And I don’t want to make my parents clean out the coop, so I get to do that.
Are you a black belt?
I am. Third-degree black belt. There are eight kyū ranks, which are before black belt, and then 10 dan ranks, which are black belt ranks. I’m third of 10, but it’ll take me a while.
Your twin Jacob [Lezberg ’20] is also a sophomore. Was that always the plan, to come to school together?
Yes! Right, so Jacob’s my twin brother. We knew that we wanted to be at the same school, so we looked at all the same schools, and applied to all the same schools, and it worked out!
What else do you do?
I am the outreach coordinator for the Jewish Association. I am also on the Interfaith board. I work for CLiA in a couple capacities. … I’m also working at Mount Greylock High School as a writing fellow, so I work both in English classes and then also I’m working with a girl who is from Thailand and doesn’t speak very much English, so I’ve gotten to learn a lot about ELL [English Language Learning] teachings, since I don’t speak Thai. What else? The martial arts club that my brother runs. Education club. Literary review. I think that’s it.
What’s your major?
I have five prospective majors – English, comp lit, poli sci, philosophy, environmental studies. Just last week, a professor recommended that I do a contract major, trying to combine those. I don’t know if that will end up happening, but it’s a possibility. It would probably be critical theory. I didn’t know what that was until last week. It seems like it’s an interdisciplinary humanities subject trying to focus on using information and insights from all those different disciplines to investigate power structures. It sounds really cool; I just need to learn more about it before I decide I’m going to major in it.
Any favorite professors?
Probably Christian Thorne. He’s in the English department. He’s the one who’s recommending this major. I took literary theory with him last fall. And I’d heard he was a really hard English professor. And he was really hard. I didn’t do great on my first essay; I mean, I didn’t do terribly, I think I got a B on it. I was all annoyed; I was like, I really want to do well on this. And he’s just, he was incredible at giving really specific feedback. And every time I went to office hours, we’d end up talking for like an hour, and he was really helpful. And by the end, I feel like I grew as a writer quite a bit. And just, you got to talk about things that you never got to talk about in a high school English class.
Can you tell me anything that you’re writing now?
I’m in the introductory fiction workshop this term. … I just submitted a story – the way the class works is the first few weeks you just read published fiction. And then after that, two students hand in a story each class. And then other people edit them. And it’s kind of cool because you’re sitting there and listening to other people investigate your story as if it were published. It’s interesting. I just had my first one last week. It was [about] a woman who is coming back to her hometown after having been away for a long time after her father dies, and investigating her relationship with her father and with her siblings. Basically, every single one of my stories involves chickens in some capacity, so she was a farmer.
I don’t plan it that way, but it just – when I write, you write what you know, so I can’t write about someone who’s lived in the city their whole life, because I don’t know what that’s like! I can write about people who have chickens because I know chickens.
What did you have to do to get the chickens?
I had to go in front of the city council and basically give a speech on why I want to keep chickens. You have to get a permit to keep chickens, which is why I had to do this. And then there are all these rules like [they have to be a] certain number of feet from your fence, certain number of feet from other people’s houses, things like that. And a maximum of six [chickens] that you can keep. You submit a petition, and then the city sends letters to everyone in a certain radius from your house. And then people can make a petition against it. And I had a few neighbors who weren’t super enthused about it. Mostly because they didn’t understand how keeping chickens works; they thought they would attract rodents or smell bad or be super loud. You can’t keep roosters, so I just have hens. My family had to go up and explain why we wanted to keep chickens, and myth bust. But they approved it, so I have chickens!
So you learned about chickens at your job?
Yeah, so when I first started I was 13. I had gone to Hancock Shaker Village as a visitor – if you live around here, you go all the time on school field trips and things. And I met a volunteer who was my age. I thought, this would be really cool. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I thought it would be like, hold chicks for toddlers and that would be it. Within the first day, it was like, restraining rams by their horns and all sorts of things. And I just fell in love with the work and the people and yeah, so it was all just learning on the job. Once one of my co-workers convinced me to get chickens, I spent a couple years doing a lot of research. You should see my library at home. I have the Chicken Health Handbook and My Pet Chicken Handbook. There are also certain very famous – famous in the farm world – chicken bloggers.
That’s so fun!
Yeah. My hope is that when I’m older, I don’t necessarily want to be a farmer, but I want to have other animals. I’ve been trying to convince my parents, what about goats? That’s not going to happen any time soon. But eventually I’d want chickens, ducks and goats, and then maybe a cow, but I’m unsure. That’s a big commitment with the milking.
I think you’re ready to be a farmer.
When I go back from Pittsfield to Williamstown, we drive by a couple farms each way and there’s one where the house is beautiful, and it has amazing land, and it has horses right now. My mom always looks and says, that should be your farm! It would be cool.