How do you create change at the University of San Diego? Eirene Rocha can take you to the Department of Ethnic Studies office in Maher Hall, open the door and within seconds provide visible evidence of her work and her impact on a daily basis.
“I’m most proud of the mural in the Ethnic Studies office,” said the senior International Relations major and Ethnic Studies minor. “It was a great project to get people to work together and to build community through a piece of art.”
Rocha sketched out the striking presentation after consulting with a student committee. When it came time to add paint, she other students spent parts of a couple of September weekends to come in and paint as much as they wanted.
“It was great to see how excited they were to do it,” she said.
It’s for this reason and much more that Rocha was selected, along with Justine Darling ‘08, ‘11 (MA), as a 2011 Student Women of Impact Award winner at the Dec. 9 annual luncheon hosted by the USD Women’s Center.
Rocha’s vision for beauty, social justice and the world around her is a combination of her interest in the two areas she studies at USD and the influence of her mother.
“Art is something that has always been a part of my life. My mother’s a mural artist who owned her own business. I grew up going to museums, going to Balboa Park to look at all the different exhibits and I took art classes in high school.”
She entertained the idea of going to art school, but was drawn to USD. In addition to the current mural, Rocha also painted a mural that was displayed in the Ethnic Studies Department’s former office site behind Copley Library. While painting, sketching and doing art collage are among Rocha’s favorite ways to de-stress, such as during the recent week of final exams, her major and minor at USD provide stimulation and a foundation for her interest in social justice and art.
“International Relations classes allow me to look at issues affecting other countries and that’s really important. Paired with Ethnic Studies, I really enjoy it because it gives me the structure to evaluate the issues, looking at different paradigms and why there are different systems of oppression. I’m able to translate that into a United States context and an international context. It helps me really be critical when I’m looking at social justice issues around the world,” she said.
Rocha’s passion for her studies at USD has afforded her up-close opportunities to see these issues and the people most affected.
“I love going on immersion trips, such as Nicaragua and Tijuana through University Ministry, because it’s important to me to put life in perspective,” said Rocha, who in the spring will spend her March spring break with the Center for Community Service-Learning’s annual immersion trip to New Orleans. “There are people who have struggles, but that makes me want to build community with them. I went on the last Tijuana trip in December and it was amazing to go back to Casa Las Memorias, a HIV/AIDS hospice. To have the men there remember me from a previous trip and ask how I’m doing was wonderful. It’s really humbling to have these opportunities. I want to hold onto to each of those moments.”
Her devotion to USD and her studies translates into her active participation in many campus organizations and activities. She’s co-chair for the Ethnic Studies Student Organization, a member of Students for Fair Trade and Sustainability, student leader for University Ministry’s Search Retreat and UM’s publicity intern. She’s on the planning committees for the Our Lady of Guadalupe and Farm Workers Movement Masses and is involved with the First Year Women Rock program, which helps first-year USD female students make a smooth transition to college and assists in their development.
In all, Rocha’s actions and talent add up to a true Woman of Impact.
“It’s a motivation for me, a reassurance that what I’m doing is valid,” Rocha said of being recognized. “When I get frustrated, it’s a reminder that there are reasons why the work is worth doing. It’s a big honor to be selected as a Woman of Impact, to be aware that what I’m doing is right and that I need to continue this work and honor those people who nominated me.”
– Ryan T. Blystone