CELS professor explores links between gender, justice and the environment

frazier-photoDriven by her passion for social justice, Jessica Frazier is in a unique position to affect change at the University of Rhode Island. She collaborates across colleges and disciplines, stimulating critical conversations around gender, justice, and the environment.

Frazier first joined URI in 2013 as a visiting assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) with the Gender and Women’s Studies Program. Her background and expertise in U.S. women’s history and social movements quickly earned her a tenure-track position as assistant professor, and a joint appointment between the Department of History in A&S and the Department of Marine Affairs in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS).

“I like the flexibility of URI,” says Frazier, who teaches courses on environmental justice issues, marine environmental history, and transnational women’s networks. “I find it fantastic to be able to collaborate across colleges; it is something unique to URI and my position here.”

In addition to her dual-college role, Frazier launched CELS’ first-ever Environmental Justice Speaker Series in collaboration with CELS professor Amelia Moore. As part of the lecture series, speakers from academic institutions across the country are invited to talk about the interconnection of race, poverty, gender, and environmental policies at the local, national, and international levels.

“The goal was to get people talking about the connection between environmental and social science, and how it’s important to be looking at issues of justice when it comes to environmental policies and planning,” says Frazier, who looks forward to hosting another speaker series in the spring of 2018.

Frazier’s research focuses on women’s transnational social movements and connections they have made between women’s rights, peace, environmental issues, and racial injustice. “Women tend to be leaders of local environmental justice campaigns,” she explains. “It is often women as mothers who notice or fear the effects of toxics, waste, and pollution in their communities and decide to do something about it.”

For Frazier, social justice is not just an area of study, it is the lens through which she views the world. She credits her alma mater for instilling in her the Jesuit value of service for others.  After earning her bachelor’s in Mathematics and Spanish from Regis University in 2003, Frazier worked as an actuary in Chicago and volunteered with several organizations in her spare time. She taught English to Spanish-speaking residents who are learning English as a second language and worked with female survivors of domestic violence.

“Volunteering was a way for me to get involved with the community and give back,” reflects Frazier on a turning point in her career. “Through that volunteer work I knew that what I was doing for my job was not what I wanted to do, so I decided to go back to school to do something related to women and gender.”

Frazier went on to earn both her master’s and PhD in History from SUNY Binghamton, where she focused on U.S. women’s history in the 20th century. Her dissertation on U.S. women’s transnational activism during the Vietnam war era was selected as the Lerner-Scott Prize Finalist for Best Dissertation in U.S. Women’s History in the country. Her doctoral work provided the building blocks for her new book, Women’s Antiwar Diplomacy during the Vietnam War Era (Gender and American Culture). Published in 2017, Frazier’s book explores the unique  relationships forged between American and Vietnamese women in civil rights, peace, and women’s liberation organizations during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the powerful role they played in global antiwar activism.

“In Vietnam war history a lot of attention is given to the American perspective–this is changing, and my book is forwarding research that takes into account the Vietnamese perspective,” explains Frazier, who had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam and interview former women diplomats first-hand.

“Women have historically been ignored in decision making circles,” she says. Yet, as Frazier’s work at CELS demonstrates, solutions to these complex issues require an interdisciplinary approach that takes into account different perspectives.

Whether you’re addressing anitwar diplomacy or environmental policy,“It’s important to invite and respect people, (including women) with local knowledge to the table,” she adds.