A few years ago, a student stepped up to work towards making the UL "Horse Farm" a public park for the whole community. While a fierce argument raged through the community, fueled by divisive media commentary, the student heading the effort was meeting politely with President Authément, who welcomed both the student activism and the independence of thought and diversity of opinion, with the open-mindedness, tolerance, and collegiality that the life of the mind demands. She talks about her experiences with ultoday.com.

Elizabeth Brooks, University of Louisiana, Horse FarmYou took on the most powerful person in Acadiana, and he listened to you. Talk about that.

Dr. Authément was always extremely diplomatic whenever we met with him. It was was typically me, Danica Adams (who ran the "Save The Horse Farm" campaign with me) and our mentor & professor, Dr. Griff Blakewood. Dr. Authément was always willing to meet with us, usually within a week after we asked for a meeting.

We were always met cordially and promptly. He couldn't give us what we wanted when we asked for it, because he was already committed to the other offer. We understood that. But he always said he appreciated our idealism. He would tell us stories about student activism in the past, and that he is always impressed to see students standing up for what they believe in. He simply explained to us that he wasn't in the business of building parks.

Did the accessibility surprise you?

No it didn't, because as I learned more about the history of UL, I heard stories about how likable and respected [former UL President] Joel Fletcher was, how he personally knew all of the students on campus, and how accessible he was. I knew UL had a strong tradition of listening to students.

With my father [Dean Gordon Brooks, College of Arts] being in the academic setting, it never occurred to me that a president would not be accessible to his students, where you couldn't go to the administration with concerns or questions, or in our case, even objections. It never occurred to me that it wasn't a big family.

So after all of your experiences and you efforts, how do you feel about the University?

I love UL. I honestly believe that this is a one-of-a-kind institution. It may have to do with the cultural continuity we have here in South Louisiana, the way we're so family-oriented. There is already this sense of community ingrained in the area, because of the family culture and personal bonds that exist between people. All of that affects the University as well. It is a friendly, comfortable, informal place. I very much appreciate the experiences I've had here.

I felt I did matter here, I made a difference, my voice mattered, I could meet with my president, and I had strong relationships with my professors.

I've been at other universities, and that isn't true everywhere. At some institutions, the students are a number, another name on a roster, and that saddens me.

University of Louisiana, Horse FarmSo what is the status of the Horse Farm?

It's still in discussion. Mayor Durel is talking with Dr. Savoie, and they're negotiating. There are some very exciting things on the way, and there should be big news soon.

Can you give us a hint?

No.

You've been accepted into the inaugural class of City Hall Fellows. Tell us about that.

City Hall Fellows was founded by a Baton Rouge native, Bethany Rubin Henderson. She got the idea after she was accepted to a similar program in New York called Urban Fellows, which changed her life. She ended up going to Harvard and she practiced law for a few years, but the whole time she wished she could create a program to bring that experience and opportunity to young leaders here in Louisiana.

So she formulated this idea with one of the other Urban Fellow, and started her non-profit organization in 2007, the City Hall Fellow. She immediately began recruiting cities to sponsor the Fellows for the program. And the first two city governments to participate were Houston & San Francisco. Houston sponsored me. Joey Durel wrote me a letter of recommendation for it, and so did Griff Blakewood.

So what happens in the program?

It's a year-long, paid fellowship, within a department in the City Hall. The program consists of 4 1/2 days of work at City Hall, then 1/2 day in a civic leadership program, probably akin to Leadership Lafayette. We'll look at the philosophy of the city, studying Houston, and how it has developed.

The Houston departments that will be opening positions for us are still undecided. There are 10 fellows in each city. From what I understand, we will have to apply to half of the available positions and compete for them.

What's your first choice?

I would love to be in the Department of Planning & Development, or Parks & Recreation, or Housing & Community Development. Obviously, Urban Planning is my first choice, because that's what I want to get my Masters in after the Fellowship.

Any idea where you want to study?

Yes, there are several programs I'm looking at. UNO has the only program in Louisiana. But UT Austin is probably my top choice right now, simply because Austin is such a neat place. And I get the feeling that Lafayette is a little Austin. So I'd love to study Urban Planning there.

I'm also looking at the University of Wisconsin. And Tufts, they have a program in Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning, because they feel that there's no way to adequately address issues in planning without combining an in-depth interdisciplinary environmental approach.

Sustainable urban development, that's what I'm going to study, and that's what I want to bring back to Lafayette.

Tell us something about you very few people know.

I was very jaded & disenchanted as a child. It wasn't until I got into college that I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. It started with a book I read, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, and it changed my life. I have never wasted a day since. I don't always know where I'm headed, but now I always have a direction.

I think that's a problem with youth today, there are so many paths to take, they don't know which to pick. There's so much overstimulation in the society, that they can't decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. So they shut down, and don't do anything. Look at how many times people on campus change their majors.

And another thing I think is important, is that people our age think they can't make a difference, because there are so many people, and individuals get lost in the mix these days.

It's hard to find your place to make your mark.