Catherine Larrabee Shines as a Worldly Social Justice Warrior

Between being the lead student trainer of Bystander Intervention with the Women’s Center and a Student Leader for Arrupe, it’s not always easy to find senior Catherine Larrabee, MCAS ’16, with a lot of free time on her hands. When I asked to set up a time to meet and talk with her, for example, bright and early at 9:30 on a Saturday morning was the first opening in her schedule.

Following yet another successful Love Your Body Week, Larrabee is finally at a lull—a much-needed moment to catch her breath—in her whirlwind of events and schoolwork. Still, with so many interests, discoveries and impressive involvements in her time at Boston College, Larrabee has a lot to reflect on, and still a jam-packed final semester to be had.

“In high school, I was always pegged as ‘the feminist,’” Larrabee recalls, noting that the word itself has always had a stigma. “But even when I was in the Rat picking out my classes before freshman year, I remember my completely random advisor lady saying, ‘You should take Intro to Feminisms. I think it’ll help you find your people.’”

Women’s rights have always been a leading force in Larrabee’s life—especially in finding her place on campus. Though purely serendipitous, that piece of advice given by Larrabee’s first semester freshman advisor was enough to lead her to start volunteering with the Boston College Women’s Center as she entered her sophomore year.

She began as a volunteer for Love Your Body Week, and instantly she was hooked on the Women’s Center and drawn to its fun and positive energy. She continued on with the team, partaking in a think tank on feminist issues and volunteering for Care Week as the year progressed. By the time she reached junior year, Larrabee was hired to a paid position at the Women’s Center.

Perhaps most prominently, Larrabee is the Lead Trainer for the Bystander Intervention program. She still gives presentations, as well as engaging in advocacy and publicity for the program. Primarily, though, she’s helping to organize the program and gear it towards the future. One of Bystander Intervention’s main goals for the upcoming year is to have every freshman on campus Bystander trained.

And after that?  Within a few years’ time, the goal is that every student at BC will have gone through this program.

“I see the 'Stand Up BC' t-shirts all over campus,” Larrabee says. “It’s getting established, which is really exciting.”

Bystander presentations were recently given to first-year residents living in Duchesne and Keyes Halls on Newton campus—an impressive 17 presentations in just two days. The presentations aim to foster discussions of feminism and healthy relationships and are rooted in the principles of giving students extensive education on sexual safety and a strong sense of accountability for others in the BC community.

“We’re always looking at new ways to engage the community, which is why there are so many changes happening. And there’s so much energy about it too,” Larrabee adds. “So many people come into the Women’s Center and ask how they can volunteer.”

Selly Sellah / Gavel Media

Selly Sellah / Gavel Media

Larrabee’s involvement on campus doesn’t just stop there. She has also found her niche through Arrupe—a program out of Campus Ministry with an aim to form close community bonds and broaden students’ senses of worldview. Arrupe contains a week-long immersion trip to Latin America over Christmas break, but the main focus is small groups of 10 to 12 students that facilitate conversations about faith and life at BC.

“Most people do it for the relationships in their small community,” she says, noting that the groups aren’t aimed simply for facilitating service trips, but rather to be giving students check-ins with realities outside their own personal world.

In 2008, Larrabee’s family started a tradition of going on annual trips to an orphanage in Honduras as this type of reality check. The summer before her junior year, she took a language immersion trip to Costa Rica to learn Spanish.  She credits these trips with helping her to recognize her passion in the advocacy of women’s rights and in the Latin/Central American region as a whole.

“I feel like a piece of me has been there,” Larrabee adds; that kind of solidarity and feeling of oneness with fellow human beings is the ultimate goal of the Arrupe program for her.

Larrabee’s role in Arrupe is as a now two-time Student Leader, setting the agenda and leading discussions in weekly meetings with her own small community as well as leading them on these immersion trips. Her group last year went to El Salvador, and for this upcoming trip she’s headed to the Dominican Republic.

Her interest in this role stems from the intimacy of the small group dynamic and the importance of these types of conversations, which often times can make life’s bigger questions much more accessible.

“I think a lot of people are working through what faith means to them when they’re at BC,” Larrabee says, “and I think this can be a good way to do that, especially for people who are interested in justice issues in the world.”

As an ethics-focused Theology major and Medical Humanities minor, these questions of faith and justice on an international scale are what give Larrabee the energy to pursue her passions. She’s inspired by what she considers to be “real-life people,” which include but are not limited to her parents, friends, coworkers in Arrupe and the Women’s Center—and even the Catholic saints.

“The theological nerd in me is about to come out,” Larrabee laughs, “but that’s what’s so cool to me about the Catholic tradition. Because we’re able to look up to the saints as mentors and examples of real-life people.”

In this sense of reality, Larrabee finds her safe space. As she looks towards life after BC, she envisions herself working in some sort of public interest, legal or nonprofit organization. She’s drawn to helping people navigate that system, advocating for people who need it. In her internship this past summer at Centro Presente, a community organizing group for Latin American immigrants in East Boston, these career goals were solidified.

“I’ve learned about how policies affect people the most when they have the least power,” she says, specifically in respect to policies surrounding issues like women’s rights, welfare and immigration. Above all, though, Larrabee wants to continue working with people from Central and Latin American countries.

“It’s an illusion that we’re so separate from these issues and these countries,” she adds with an air of wisdom, of reflection. Though it feels as if I’ve just conversed with the next world leader and feminist activist, Larrabee is about to head off to grab brunch with some friends before heading out to watch her last Notre Dame football game—just like any other student at BC.

With an array of exciting accomplishments under her belt, Larrabee is impressively down-to-earth, holding with her an unmatched amount of promise to make this world a better place. She admits it herself: “I’m just excited to get out into the world and do some good.”

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