Class of 2018: Meet Jenna Lawson, Who Bridges the Gap Between Comedy and Community

Jenna Lawson, Class of 2018 portrait

Jenna Lawson '18

This is the second profile in a series to highlight members of our Class of 2018.

Jenna Lawson ’18 has been bridging the gap between comedy and community in her four years at Geneseo.

“As a kid I had a passion to make people laugh,” said Lawson, a history major with English and honors minors. “I also saw how comedians could use humor to be cultural influencers, I wanted to chase that (influence).”

Lawson, who is a Presidential Scholar and Edgar Fellow, arrived at Geneseo in 2014, ready to get to know new people and a new community.

“It was a slow burn, cultural shock,” said Lawson, who is originally from a rural town, which she describes as “culturally homogenous.”

Lawson said she began to really explore and listen to the experiences of traditionally marginalized groups on campus. Their stories and perspectives inspired her to explore advocacy work.

“The most important thing that I learned is the importance of listening,” said Lawson. “My peers from different backgrounds taught me more than I thought possible.”

This became the basis of Lawson’s “ToKnight Show” event series last semester, funded by her Center for Inquiry, Discovery and Development (CIDD) Ambassadorship in Diversity, which brought nearly 250 students together to explore and talk about LGBTQ, race, mental health, disability and student activism.

The idea was to attract students to get their feet wet in activism, something that might be relatively new to them. Lawson combined comedy, small skits and a panel discussion as a means of telling a compelling story in a casual and authentic way.

The platform’s evolution exceeded even Lawson’s own expectations. In the process of telling stories and discussing sensitive issues, friendships were kindled, perspectives shaped, and barriers broken.

The spirit of the show is continuing through a new student organization called Voices Uncovered, led by Sandy Brahaspat ’20. The new organization will continue to leverage the “ToKnight Show’s” website and social media, which were so effective in bringing the campus together.

As for Lawson, she is in the final stages of her Edgar Fellows senior capstone project. For this, Lawson has traveled to Washington, D.C., and conducted research on how humor impacted Jim Crow Era African Americans. She also supports Professor of History Emilye Crosby by transcribing audio recordings of prominent civil rights activists through a digital gateway project.

Following graduation, Lawson hopes to continue her advocacy, this time through volunteerism. She has applied to the AmeriCorps Rochester Youth Year in the hopes of working on community-building projects. In the future, she hopes to attend law school.

Lawson is grateful for the time and experiences she has had at Geneseo.

“I would not have done this any other way, I have no regrets,” she said. “I think I have made a real difference here.”

— By Kitrick McCoy '19