Get up close to College of Charleston Junior Ansley Pope and you’ll notice a few rubber bands around each of his wrists, covered with different handwritten notes. “I have a tattoo of trees and birds, but I don’t want words on my body,” Pope explains. “So I write down things that I want to take away for the day.”
His favorite? “Always better to be a transformer than a conformer.”
“As a transgender guy, it would’ve been easy to conform, but I think that it’s better to step away from what society wants and just be myself,” he explains.
Powerful and progressive thinking for a 21-year-old student, no?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Pope. When he’s not busy with school or playing one of six musical instruments, the Women Studies & Feminist Ideology major is involved with college orientation and the Bonner Leader Program, a four-year civic leadership and development program highlighted by regular training and reflection activities. Through the Bonner Program, Pope works closely with Girls Rock Charleston, a program that empowers girls and trans youth through music education, DIY media, and creative collaboration.
“It’s not just some non-profit,” Pope notes. “I consider the people of this organization part of my chosen family. They challenge me to be my authentic self and empower the youth we work with—and I think that’s a powerful thing.”
Powerful, indeed. Having grown up in the small town of Aiken, South Carolina, Pope admits that he’s encountered his fair share of oppression—whether it be due to race or sexual orientation—and credits Charleston as part of the reason for giving him a place where he could come into his own. His goal? To create space where people can be themselves.
“The feeling and the positive energy that we create within organizations that I work with—I just want to make it feel like that in so many ways. The more spaces that I can help create, that’ll just be a checkmark of things I need to get done,” says Pope.
Here’s to Pope raising the bar for college students’ to-do lists.
Words by: Evans Craddock
Photographer: Landon Neil Phillips
Sylist: Dalia Dalili
Hair/Make-Up: Bailey Bial
Photo Assistants: Jenny Kleiman, Kayla Morrisey, Kyle Victory, Gordon Keiter, and Erica Griffiths