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Spotlight on … Alyssa Rayman-Read ’99

Alyssa Rayman-Read ’99, a labor and civil rights attorney, was named vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation Massachusetts.

What do you love about what you do?

I love being in a job and at an organization that allows me to really “walk the talk”—applying all my capital and energy to create meaningful change in the areas that most matter to me. At Conservation Law Foundation, we take our collective alarm about climate change, environmental degradation, and social justice and turn it into action. We develop groundbreaking legislation to move forward clean energy; we sue to clean up our air and waters; we defend our ocean from oil and gas drilling; we build coalitions to push greater access to public transportation and public spaces; and we hold corporate polluters responsible for endangering people and our environment. We take on the hardest environmental battles and move the needle forward, ensuring that Massachusetts—and all of New England—continues to be at the forefront of environmental leadership in our nation and the world. I’ve always tried to work in mission-driven organizations and to work with people who are energized by a shared purpose. As Massachusetts director at CLF, I have never felt as much shared urgency and drive, and each day I feel motivated and alive.

How has Swarthmore shaped your career—and your life?

Being a Lang Scholar at Swarthmore allowed me to work on social justice issues right off the bat and encouraged me to fuse what I was learning in the classroom with the experiential “doing” of my Lang Project. The Quaker emphasis on noncompetitive, individually driven, reflective education helped me ascertain my own style of scholarship. I discovered early on what I needed and liked as a learner—fusing theory and practice, working subversively inside systems to create change, and being a leader and advocate on justice issues. This clarity about my identity as a learner translated into clarity about my role in the professional world. In all my jobs, I have wanted to see real-world, tangible impacts of my work on a near-daily basis, while staying committed to rooting the practical work in research, data, metrics, knowledge.

Struggles come up constantly—how to be nimble and thoughtful, how to act as a leader and act collaboratively, how to be bold, even edgy, and well-informed, grounded in meaningful research. For example, in my labor-law practice and worker-rights advocacy, I have experimented with using research and ideas in seemingly static spaces—reimagining entrenched labor relationships; expanding interpretations of statutory law in emerging economies such as the gig economy; envisioning new, unseen organizational structures in the workplace.

My Swarthmore experience taught me to embrace these inevitable professional, almost existential tensions: to “problematize” (ha, ha!) and to expose which are the product of fictional, false dichotomies that might be redefined, even transformative.

What advice would you give current Swarthmoreans hoping to follow in your path?

Take your learning outside—in every way, at every level! Make sure that you understand how the intellectual and book learning translates to the real world. Political theory? Where do you see that play out? Make sure you understand the actual work entailed by the job title. Attorney? What do most attorneys spend their days doing? What skills are important? How much time is sitting? Alone? With a computer? Relational? Really get out there and explore the working world to find the connections to your Swarthmore studies. Pull them together. Meet people doing jobs that seem exciting and find out if those jobs are what you imagine, and if the people doing them have lives you’d want to have. Do they have time to see their children? To go for a hike? If you can’t have it all, what do you most want to have? Perhaps most importantly, get outside—literally! Go outside. Remember you are inherently and forever connected to this earth, to the natural world. Take time to breathe the air, move your body, and feel that connection.

Anything else you’d like to say?

We live in a time that feels enormously troubled; for me it feels apocalyptic. I want to look back and know where I was at this political and historic moment in American life, what I was doing. I want to tell my children that I was resisting the undermining of democratic institutions, civility, and progress. I urge all Swatties to find their unique way to engage constructively with this time—whether in a role of resistance, advocacy, or community-building—this is the time to put our Swarthmore educations to use. This is the time.