“Environmental justice and social justice go hand in hand…we cannot have one without the other,” affirms Jessica Rojas, an environmental studies major and ethnic studies minor. Jessica’s various commitments on campus reflect this conviction that social and environmental issues are interrelated: she is currently serving as Diversity Coordinator for the ASUO Women’s Center, participates on the Multicultural Center Board, regularly volunteers with groups such as the Native American Student Union, and recently became part of the newly-formed Prison Justice Working Group.
Jessica brings an environmental perspective to all of her work as a social activist. In her capacity as the Women’s Center Diversity Coordinator, one of Jessica’s jobs is to organize events such as the Lylle B. Parker Speaker Series. “My intention is to highlight the intersection of gender, race and the environment by bringing to our campus a woman of color speaker who can put these issues into a working perspective, helping us [apply] the theories we learn about in class.”
Even as a member of the Prison Justice Working Group, Jessica offers an environmental critique: “People don’t realize that prison issues are environmental issues as prison incorporates the built environment, separates people from the natural environment and always involves people who usually either are products of their environment or soon will be once incarcerated.”
Jessica’s work with Salmon Corps in the 1990s was a formative experience that highlighted the connections between environmental degradation and social inequality for her. While teaching K-12 students in the Portland Public Schools about the cultural and ecological importance of salmon, as well as the threats to their continued existence, Jessica also learned that environmental activism is “something one can do in one’s own backyard.”
Being an environmental studies student at the University of Oregon has allowed Jessica to deepen her understanding of the complex causes of environmental issues. “[In the Environmental Studies Program] I have had opportunity to gain new insight on what is driving our desires and philosophies in doing the restoration we are pushing for. This has given me time to assess my past work and think intentionally about how the intersections of race, class and the environment work together.”
When she graduates this year, Jessica plans to return “to her watershed, like a salmon returning to spawn” in order to share the knowledge and experiences she’s gained at the UO. Ultimately, she says, “my dream is to [provide] environmental education to those who would be least likely to have access to it, such as the incarcerated and those involved in drug and alcohol treatment programs. I want to take what I have learned here and make it available and accessible, as I believe one shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to be a good steward of the environment.”
Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.