ES Profile: Jennifer Lleras, Ethnic Studies and Spanish 2008
Like many graduates, I knew that my passion for equity and justice had just been ignited when I received my bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies and Spanish from the University of Oregon in 2008. Politicized inside and outside of the classroom, I was truly motivated to work for social change.
Organizing as a student gave me a chance to try out my analysis and my new vocabulary in real time, with people who were also learning. Organizing at UO deeply informed my values, taught me to build strong coalitions and centered my organizing around making change with and for those most affected. While ES had given me the word intersectionality, it was my friends, fellow organizers and mentors who pushed me to think about the intersectional identities of the people I was working with. This, in turn, helped me develop strategies to identify solutions and organize for changes that would not leave anyone out – remembering that those at the margin are most frequently left behind.
I bring those experiences and lessons, along with my past five years of professional organizing experience, to my work every day as a Trainer Organizer at the Western States Center. The Western States Center works to build a stronger progressive movement in the West by 1) training people to be community organizers, 2) strengthening community-based organizations, 3) providing analysis and developing tools to advance progressive issues and 4) bringing people, organizations and communities together. My work is focused in the Gender Justice Program where I work on two initiatives. The first is Uniting Communities, a long standing program of the Center, which has just started its first regional cohort gathering organizations from Oregon, Nevada and Washington.
Uniting Communities supports organizations working in the racial justice and immigrant rights movements to proactively engage and include their members and constituencies who are LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people of color. I work with organizations to build a plan and implement trainings to shift their organizational culture to support and develop the leadership of LGBTQ people of color, and also to develop the capacity to take public stands for LGBTQ equality. In the next month, we will launch a pilot program, We are BRAVE (Building Reproductive Autonomy and Voices for Equity), to address reproductive justice needs in communities of color in Oregon.
My advice to ES grads is to follow your heart, work hard and get your hands dirty while you’re in still in school. I would change nothing about my time at UO. Organizing was and still is my passion. Whatever yours is, work hard to find your place as a student and dive in head first. The experiences you’ll gain and the peer network you’ll benefit from accessing is completely unparalleled on other campuses and is even harder to come by once you leave.