Special/Signature Issues » 2011 Top 40 Under 40

Liz Canfield, 38

Assistant Professor in the VCU Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Department

Some people shudder when they hear the word “activist,” perhaps picturing extreme examples often seen in mass media. But Liz Canfield sees it differently, she says: “Activism for me is the consistent, persistent and loving way that folks make their communities — and by extension perhaps, the larger world — better places for everyone to live.”

The activist and educator is quick to remind folks that talking about change isn’t always enough. “I think that direct action is necessary sometimes,” Canfield says. “We wouldn’t have the 40-hour workweek or civil rights without direct action and activism. People forget about that.”

Canfield is vigorously committed to bettering the community she loves. When she isn’t teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, she’s involved with a number of campus programs, including the Equity and Diversity Committee and Safe Zone workshops designed to combat homophobia and heterosexism by training faculty and staff.

Canfield also volunteers with the Richmond Peace Education Center, Art 180 and Girls Rock RVA, among others. For the past five years, she’s leveraged her creative genius to organize the Richmond ’Zine Fest and curate the Von Gribley Reading Series at Chop Suey Books.

“I see the struggle for social justice as intersectional,” Canfield says. “I try to make my work reflect that. I also see art, activism, and the pursuit of knowledge as thoroughly integrated, so my classes and community work often show that integration.”

Canfield says she believes in the power of incremental change and encourages communities to take care of each other. “It is the small scale change that keeps folks going,” she says. “I think many folks don’t try because they think they can’t do it, but they can. We gotta start with ourselves, our own neighborhoods and communities.”