Addressing Climate Change and Racial Justice: Best of Both Worlds

Hi everyone! I am Jeanyna Garcia, a rising sophomore and an Environmental Studies major (though I have not declared yet!). I am an Ecuadorian-American student from Washington Heights, New York City. Although the pandemic has brought the entire city to an abrupt halt, there are a myriad of things New Yorkers can still do for entertainment. One of the activities that will be keeping me busy and entertained will be my internship at Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts. As an intern, I will develop engaging media for youth of color in the local Amherst area to educate and engage them in climate change and racial justice issues. By the end of the internship, I hope to not only expand on my learning of climate and racial justice, but also, inspire and empower youth of color to tackle these important issues in their respective communities.

Last Monday, I had my first meeting with my supervisor, Russ Vernon-Jones, a Climate Action Now board member and racial and climate justice blogger, and co-intern, Liz Tran, on logistics and overview of the internship. Originally, this internship was programmed to occur in-person in the local Amherst area. As co-program coordinators of the Climate and Racial Justice Youth summer program, Liz and I would have been interacting with Amherst high-school students of color by either leading field trips or by discussing with them about topics of racial justice and climate change. However, due to the pandemic, the internship had been rearranged so that Liz and I could work remotely to create videos catered to youth of color about these topics instead.

Prior to being accepted to this internship, I was unsure about my chances of scoring a meaningful, paid summer experience. Before the pandemic began, I had applied to different summer experiences related to conservation, diversity and inclusion, and non-profit that I found on Handshake and those made available to Charles Hamilton Houston students. However, as the pandemic took ahold the U.S., most in-person internships were cancelled. Nonetheless, I took advice from the Loeb Center who recommended that students pitch to their supervisors to convert their internships into remote experiences instead of completely ruling out the internship. I did exactly that when writing my cover letter and luckily, was able to convince my supervisor to keep the internship going during the summer.

Though I am fortunate to be doing something meaningful over the summer, remote internships also present its many challenges. For one, I can’t help but feel that my work is being completed in a void: without continuous and direct engagement with the youth from Amherst, I sometimes feel like the videos I’ll end up creating won’t reach an audience. In addition, my internship is somewhat hands-off. Although my supervisor has given us an outline of tasks that we must complete before producing the videos, it is up to Liz and me to brainstorm what type of videos we are creating, how we are formatting them, and the times we plan to have these completed. We don’t have deadlines on any of our videos, thus far, and although I welcome the flexibility, I found it tough last week to stay on track of my work and keep myself busy with internship-related activities. Nonetheless, I am meeting these challenges by discussing with Russ about tapping into a digital community of Amherst youth of color, FaceTiming with Liz and establishing deadlines to hold each other accountable, keeping myself busy with non-internship related stuff, interacting with my Amherst community in any way, rewarding myself and by blogging about my experiences!

More importantly, I remain motivated by reminding myself of my passions and aspirations for my future after Amherst. This past Friday, I attended the first of the STEM Incubator Colloquium Series in which Amherst alum, Kellyn LaCour-Conant ’15, passionately discussed her work as both a skilled field researcher/ecologist and an advocate for Indigenous science and environmental justice. According to her, ecology is not just about the science, but instead, is an intersectional practice in which she can address food insecurity, inequality, and other issues prevalent to her community. Just like Kellyn, I aspire to use my knowledge of Environmental Studies to address social justice issues affecting my own communities, as a first-gen, low-income Latina, and therefore, turn the world into a fairer and cleaner place to live in. I believe both goals should not be mutually exclusive, but instead, must go hand in hand. Likewise, I hope to convince incoming and current Amherst STEM students to seek ways to apply their knowledge of STEM to their communities and thus, transform the world in meaningful ways.

If you have any questions, want to hear about my thoughts, or need someone to bounce ideas off from, you can reach me at When I am not staring at my laptop, I am reading Webtoons, singing, listening to K-pop, birdwatching and cooking food.

Description and Credits of Cover Image: Picture, taken by me, of an art piece done by my cousin to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.