Expanding the Definition of Community
After graduating, Lena Eyen '17 chose to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to continue fostering her interest in environmental studies. She credits her immersion trip experiences in Appalachia for playing an essential role in shaping her education and postgraduate pursuits.
I was first introduced to the immersion program when my roommate voiced that she was going to grab lunch with some of the individuals she had met on her trip the previous year. Naturally jealous, I wanted to know more about this "trip" and how she was able to meet people beyond the normal bounds of classes and extracurriculars.
That winter of my sophomore year, I chose to apply for an immersion trip (disregarding the feelings of anxiety surrounding traveling with a group of strangers, to a place I knew next to nothing about, for an experience that was supposed to be a certain sort of "uncomfortable"). Admittedly, it should not have taken standing on top of a mountain-top removal coal mining site, and listening to stories from community members who have faced severe medical complications from chemically-tainted waterways, for me to be concerned about environmental degradation and injustice. "Should not's" aside, I know that my immersion trip to Appalachia that year and again my senior year (as a leader) played an integral role in shaping my education and postgraduate pursuits.
After graduating in June with a double major in Psychology and Studio Art and a minor in Environmental Studies, I chose to volunteer with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in a rural town in Western Washington. Despite the obvious differences between the Pacific Northwest and the Appalachian region, communities face many of the same issues given the abundance of natural resources ripe for extraction. In both places, I have witnessed how far the negative externalities of environmental degradation permeate into nearly every realm—economic, social, political, public health, etc.
It has been a constant struggle to avoid approaching many of these monumental problems and sufferings with a reactionary, or even hopeless, mindset. However, my immersion and volunteer experiences have helped me to understand that people and places do not need fixing—and certainly not from an outsider. By expanding my own definition of community through my work, I hope to empower communities similar to the ones that have generously offered me a seat at their table—whether for a seven-day immersion trip or a year of volunteering.
Lena's passion for environmental studies lead her to an Environmental Fellowship through the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. As part of her fellowship she wrote profiles on a number of environmental activists, heroes and martyrs, including the "Keeper of the Mountain," Larry Gibson, who Lena first learned about during her immersion trips to Appalachia. Read this and other profiles by visiting Lena's website.