‘She doesn’t sit back:’ Carbondale student seeks social justice through listening, learning

Roaring Fork High School senior Izzy Knaus juggles a soccer ball with her feet while her dog Galileo enjoys a peanut butter treat at their house in Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Izzy Knaus comes from a family of doctors and teachers — her dad and grandpa are both established physicians in the Roaring Fork Valley, and while she grew up in a family that had already made a name for itself that has only strengthened her ability to impact change on her own in the Carbondale community.

“To me social justice is … being invested in issues that don’t necessarily affect me directly or personally. I have a lot of privilege coming from an upper-middle class, white family, but seeing all my peers who don’t have that privilege has really invoked this sense of I want to fight with you guys for your rights,” Knaus said.

Knaus’ pronouns are she/her, she is the middle child of three, has a dog named Galileo and plays the mid-center position when on the soccer field. This fall, she’ll be a fifth-generation Colorado State University student and plans to study international relations as a member of the school’s President’s Leadership Program. Knaus said the year her family lived abroad in Guatemala and Peru helped spark her interest in cultures and lifestyles different than her own.

“We were going to a school to learn Spanish, it was called PLQ. … Everything was done completely in Spanish, and that was like my first experience really understanding that, oh I don’t know anything about this language or this culture. … I just remember it being really difficult at first and then that sense of satisfaction as I started to get it more,” Knaus said.

She moved from Grand Junction to Carbondale when she was 7 and has grown up there since, but self-identifies as a nomad — hungry for travel and listening to perspectives different than her own.

“I think a big factor for me in being a member of a community is being able to not necessarily identify with, but be compassionate to and able to connect with people who don’t have the same background as you. So that’s me with the Latinx population. Like I’m able to connect with them because I speak Spanish and because I spent time in Latin America, but I don’t necessarily understand all of their struggles, just because I’m a gringa,” Knaus said.

Roaring Fork High School senior Izzy Knaus and her dog Galileo at their house in Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Knaus also happens to be a recipient of the Boettcher Foundation Scholarship, one of 42 students selected out of an application pool of about 1,700 from the state of Colorado. She also is only one of three students from Roaring Fork High School to receive the award within the past five years. Carmen Mccracken, Knaus’ English teacher for the past three years, said she is elated to see Knaus win this scholarship, one Mccracken said she earned and deserves. She said having Knaus in class helps elevate discussions with her curiosity that goes beyond looking to fulfill a participation point quota.

“She’s not just asking for a grade, she’s asking to have these really in-depth, interesting, insightful conversations. … That’s inspiring for me as a teacher and it also helps the class as a whole,” Mccracken said.

Knaus and some of her friends created the Student Activist Society this past fall in an effort to create dialogue with other students about recognizing privilege and how to be an ally in the face of injustice.

“We had seen not only people who were invested in these social issues like us, but people who were doing it for the wrong reasons, or with the wrong terminology. … We just wanted to raise awareness about how to articulate yourself about political issues, and when you should be taking a stand and when you should be listening I guess,” Knaus said.

Mccracken said Knaus’ compassion to listen and understand the circumstances of others is something she won’t hesitate to act on.

“She’s one of those kids that will see something that she thinks needs support or needs to be changed, then she just goes for it. She doesn’t sit back,” Mccracken said. “She’s very good about creating space for many different voices. And then taking what it is that she’s heard and moving with it.”

For other students who are interested in applying to the Boettcher Scholarship, Knaus said her advice is to identify what they’re passionate about and then continue to explore it while getting involved. She said she’s proud to receive the award, and didn’t realize throughout the various phases of the application process that it not only is a full-ride but also connects her to a wider network of past scholarship recipients, leadership training and tuition for two years of graduate school.

Knaus said she realizes the accomplishments she’s made can be attributed to her own privilege and opportunities that were presented to her may not be available for other students across the state. When she brought this up to the scholarship’s director, Knaus was impressed by her response and how candidates were reviewed.

“When I asked ‘what if there are students with different circumstances, or they haven’t had as much opportunity,’ the Director of Programs Tiffany Anderson said it’s a scholarship of merit of circumstance, so based on the things these students have done with what they’ve had. Which I think is really cool,” Knaus said.

As her senior year, a pandemic year, comes to a close, Knaus said her and her family were fortunate to not have gotten COVID-19 and remained financially stable over the past challenging months. She said she was able to stay positive throughout by not focusing on everything the pandemic took away but remembering things would improve on the other side of it and that there would be more opportunities to come. For Knaus’ future, Mccracken said she’s excited to see what she’ll accomplish and knows wherever she ends up, she’ll be working toward the greater good.

“She’s the role model that you would want your kid to have. … I expect her to be president of the United Nations. Or, a supreme court judge, you know I’m happy with either. … Whatever it is that she does, she’s going to be a leading voice,” Mccracken said.