This June, Jess Dela Cruz will graduate from Simon Fraser University (SFU) with a bachelor of arts. As an exceptionally involved undergraduate, Jess has applied her knowledge from her minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS) towards furthering social justice, inclusion and equity on campus.
In her first year at SFU, Jess discovered volunteering as a powerful opportunity to meet people and build her skills. Jess’s advice to new and potential students, especially those who are feeling lonely or overwhelmed in a new setting, is to get involved in a cause that speaks to their values and interests. “Find a volunteer position, through clubs or in the campus community, or an on-campus job,” says Jess, “That’s where you will meet friends, learn how to organize and become active in the community and make connections.” As a volunteer, Jess has led by example, and the campus community has noticed her many contributions. As a second year student in 2020, Jess won a Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Women of the Year award in recognition of her volunteerism with a variety of groups on campus.
Closely connected with Jess’s passion for helping others as a volunteer, her strong focus on inclusion and equity also inspired her to enroll in GSWS courses. “In my senior year of high school, I took a course about social justice. It introduced me to understanding race, gender, equity, Indigenous studies, as well as current events,” explains Jess. “I was looking for something similar, and GSWS was the only program I found for first year students covering many of the issues I wanted to explore.” Through GSWS courses, Jess was able to cultivate a nuanced understanding of a variety of social issues. “I didn’t have to be shy to speak out on stances that might be controversial. Many of my classmates share similar values and views to myself,” says Jess. “I give credit to the professors and instructors for creating a safe space, they introduce a code of conduct in the classroom at the beginning of the course. I haven’t seen that in many other courses.”
The opportunity to customize a GSWS course to reflect her interests resulted in one of Jess’s most memorable experiences as a student. “In my final semester, I worked one-on-one with GSWS faculty member May Farrales to develop a special topics course,” says Jess. “With her guidance, I was able to undertake research exploring my Filipino identity, and how it intersects with the issues of gender and sexuality, as well as being an immigrant and a settler on Indigenous territory.”
Jess’s learning from her GSWS minor has also informed her approach to mobilizing the community as the VP Events and Student Affairs with the Simon Fraser Student Society during the final year of her degree. “Organizers often miss how events can be social justice-based and a way to engage the community around a campaign,” says Jess. “When the Abbotsford flood happened, we collected inclusive supplies. Because there is bias in what is collected for people in need, some community members get left out. We specifically asked the community to donate items that are needed, but often overlooked.”
As Jess prepares for the next chapter in her life, after a well-deserved break, she is seeking a meaningful career where she can continue to foster a more inclusive community. In the future, Jess is considering continuing the research she started in her final semester with GSWS as a graduate student. She is also interested in continuing to work with unions or non-profit organizations. “I’d like to work or volunteer to help immigrant women transition into the community,” says Jess. “I have many ideas about what I’ll do next, but my dream would be to start my own non-profit organization, so I can continue the work I started while I was at SFU.”
This story was originally published on the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies website on May 31, 2022.