Jessica Meza-Torres

Why did you come to Willamette—and why major in English?

I don’t think I can actually pinpoint a reason why I came to Willamette—probably a mixture of not wanting to stay in my hometown (San Jose, CA) and WU just feeling right when I came to campus. I came to Willamette knowing that I wanted to be a politics major, while simultaneously trying to suppress the fact that I was really into writing and literature. By my second year at WU, I had taken a couple of English classes and realized they had been my favorites. I just couldn’t imagine myself not reading and writing forever and ever, so I declared a double major, which roughly translates into “I do a lot of reading and writing.” The English Department here is especially awesome because it makes the fluidity between my two majors easy. A lot of the skills and content I’ve learned in my English classes has informed my work in Politics, and, in a broader sense, I think it’s important to analyze the way language and politics inform each other—how what we say or write can be political and powerful. 

What's been your favorite English class so far?

I really enjoyed Close Reading, and I’m currently really into Creative Writing. I’m not the strongest close reader, but these classes have pushed me and taught me how to pay attention to detail, which can be super powerful in any context. I’m kind of a theory buff, truthfully, but I enjoy the challenge that these classes have offered. I leave class feeling empowered both as a reader and a writer, realizing that literature is more like a puzzle that requires close attention and craft.

How have you been spending your summers?

I go home every summer and work at the mall, which isn’t glamorous at all, but this summer I’m applying for a grant along with a Sociology professor. The project will look at the ways religiosity interacts with queer identity and how these religious beliefs and behaviors influence participation in protest. The professor is more of a stats guy, so I’m excited to bring a humanities perspective to the table. I think the English Department does a great job preparing students for these kind of interdisciplinary projects. We’re not all about books and grammar (as fun as those are!); we do some cool, out-in-the-field-type stuff too. 

What activities are you involved in outside of the classroom?

I’m currently the director of Students for Feminism. My responsibilities include leading weekly meetings and serving as a liaison between administration, faculty advisors, and club members. We put on events every year and bring speakers to campus, but what I’m really interested in is creating a communal space where women and other marginal identities can engage and rant and practice self-care. We have a very enthusiastic group this year, and I find that very energizing and rewarding.

I’m also the Education Coordinator for the Take a Break alternative spring break program, which focuses on getting Willamette students involved in service-learning during their week-long break. My job is to organize bi-weekly community hours, where all the program members participate in reflection activities and more generally bond as a group. I very adamantly want to emphasize the importance of recognizing privilege and positionality in relation to service.

What are your senior thesis plans?

Since the English Department is super cool, I got to work on my English thesis early—as a junior. The primary text I will be analyzing is Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, an anthology edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha. I am interested in the use of science fiction as a vehicle for imagining a more just society, especially considering the long tradition of science fiction being a genre dominated by white male authors.  My project seeks to make explicit how literature shapes the political and social, and more specifically how science fiction can help in our efforts for liberation.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I think I’ve always secretly wanted to teach and I’m finally admitting it to myself. However, I’m also super interested in restorative justice, and I think that could be a good way to mesh my majors together. But most importantly, I’ll be reading and writing forever.