by Lelia Gibson
Alison Piepmeier, ‘94 English, an accomplished feminist scholar and TTU alumna who was born and raised in Cookeville, died in August 2016. Alison authored the books Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism and Out in Public. In addition to her academic publications, Alison contributed to a column for the Charleston City Paper and maintained a personal blog, alisonpiepmeier.blogspot.com. The following is a tribute from fellow TTU alumna and current College of Business staff member Lelia Gibson.
Cool, hippy, feminist, intelligent, funny – these are just a few words that come to mind when I think of TTU alumna Alison Piepmeier. Over 25 years ago, I read a local editorial about Generation X and Tiananmen Square. The author expressed his pride in being in the same category as those protestors and other amazing Gen Xers … including Alison Piepmeier. A few years ahead of me in high school and at Tech, Alison was larger than life in my mind, and the embodiment of what I wanted to be when I grew up.
In the fall of 1993, I took an honors colloquium on race relations, which was controversial at the time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my other classmates was the great Alison Piepmeier. During that semester, I had an awakening to the world and the need to give a voice to the voiceless and representation to the underrepresented. It was my honor and privilege to have Alison along on my journey, and Alison and I soon took different paths in life. She went on to Vanderbilt for her Ph.D. and then to the College of Charleston to head their Women’s and Gender Studies program, while I remained at TTU. A few times our journeys intersected, but for the most part we lost contact.
Thanks to social media, we reconnected in a superficial way on Facebook and her blog. I witnessed her marriage, the birth of her special needs daughter, divorce and remarriage. I also learned of her health struggles. Alison was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In late spring, I was shocked to find out that her medical professionals had informed her that no viable treatment was left.
During her final days, she authored an elegant letter thanking the world for “her beautiful life.” Her work was featured in an array of media platforms including the New York Times, Yahoo, ABC News and US Magazine.
It pained me to read how this brilliant person was not able to walk, say the right words, teach her daughter to ride a bike and so much more. She passed away on August 12, 2016.
As I penned this article, I was preparing to teach my Freshman Connections classes. I remembered a long ago conversation I had with Alison— an English major— about her belief that the written word was meant to be read aloud. I concluded my next classes by asking a student to read Alison’s final column and talking about what Alison taught me in college and more recently. My final statement was this: “Alison embodied happiness and I hope that one day you find true happiness like my friend Alison.”
This article originally appeared in Tech Women Center’s Attune newsletter. Tech’s Honors Program is establishing an internship fund in Alison’s memory. If you would like to donate to this fund, please contact University Development at 931-372-3206.