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Woman of Impact

USD Women’s Center’s 2016 Undergraduate Woman of Impact Award Winner

Jane Henderson arrived at the University of San Diego in Fall 2013 with a good foundation. Born to Julie, a single mother, the Minnesota native was lovingly cared for, attended public schools, took honors classes, was interested in environmental science, played basketball and tennis and, in what she described as coming from her home state’s Midwest values, she exuded its truly kind approach to life.

“It’s that saying if you have nothing nice to say, you don’t say it at all. We’re not as blunt about things. I’m not blunt,” she stated. “I was so innocent and naive. I grew up in Minnesota, but I’m so glad that I did. I loved the Twin Cities, the education I got in public schools and friends I made.”

She and her younger sister, Mara, learned plenty from Julie, Jane’s role model.

“We’re very, very close. She’s taught me everything I know about being human and what that means. Everything I’ve learned about courage, bravery, strength, compassion, kindness, all those things, hands down, I learned from my mom.”

Jane Henderson Today

Four years later, the values that Jane Henderson carried still contribute to who she is now at 21. She will graduate as a double major in Ethnic Studies and Spanish in May. She’s fully active in the USD community and beyond with diverse friendships all across campus. Her education role models include civil rights and human rights activist Ella Baker, Ethnic Studies Department Professor and Chair Jesse Mills and her “shero” Diane Moss, managing director for southeast San Diego’s Project New Village, which is a nonprofit organization Henderson volunteers with at the Mount Hope Community Garden.

“I thought she’d be there once or twice, but she came for a long period of time,” Moss said. “She picked up a shovel and really started to help us with weeding and growing things. My nonprofit is really grassroots. We have no paid staff. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. The possibilities are there and we’re making things happen, but only from relationships and what people can give. We’re honored and privileged whenever young people on campus say, ‘This is important to me; I want to come out of my comfort zone and help you do what you do in the community.’ To them I say, ‘Keep it up and thank you.'”

Henderson’s dedication to community — at USD she’s an Alcala Club member, a Founders Hall/Living Learning Community resident assistant (RA), Black Student Union executive board member, and a researcher in the McNair Scholars Program and as a Knapp Student Fellow — earned her the USD Women’s Center’s 2016 Undergraduate Woman of Impact Award in December.

Henderson’s impact, whether it’s her radiant personality or through a critical interest in social justice, fuels her desire to learn and to grow.

“Everything was gaining steam — the momentum around Black Lives Matter, Ferguson (Missouri), the non-indictment of (Missouri police officer) Darren Wilson,” Henderson said. “For me, it became apparent my education needed to reflect my reality and the current reality going on in the world. It wasn’t acceptable for me to not be able to talk about current events in my classes. I found that my Ethnic Studies courses, my class with Jesse Mills in particular, actively engaged with the material. He didn’t see it as a deviation from the syllabus because current events were enhancing it. I’ve always considered anything I’m doing in school or in education as applicable for when I’m out in the world.”

Henderson’s work with Mount Hope put her on a path to self-discovery and to help others. She did McNair Scholar research on “Fighting Racism at its Root: An Examination of San Diego’s Community Gardens.” Through it, Henderson found “healing and community in the garden, a place where all of my identities, all of my passions and my interests were woven together.”

Making an Impact

Henderson and Moss gave the keynote talk at the Women of Impact luncheon. Henderson was one of 84 women across campus recognized for exceptional, changemaking work, but she spoke not knowing that she would win an award later in the program.

“(Women’s Center Director) Erin (Lovette-Colyer) said women seldom get recognized for all the work they do and in the various capacities they’ve done it. Taking time to be OK with winning an award is particularly important for women. In my experience, it’s been challenging to accept praise for a job well done,” Henderson said. “Erin said that’s how we’ve been socialized. We’ve been taught it’s just what I do rather than it’s really a lot of work. Winning the award, for me, was completely unexpected. I’m still in shock.”

She’s modest, too. Henderson is a good listener and a supportive RA in Founders Hall for first-year students; she organizes meaningful BSU events to engage her fellow Toreros and encourage dialogue for a stronger campus community; and her research prowess on and off campus has played a significant role in Henderson’s development.

Powerful Research

She did a summer project at Michigan State University called “People Before Parts: Cultural Consensus Modeling in the Flint Water Crisis.” Henderson described it as “research using participatory modeling tools to allow residents of Flint, Michigan, who are affected by the water crisis, to turn their qualitative belief statements about the crisis into semi-quantitative data, to be used to bridge the gap between residents and emergency responders. The belief statements about the causes, consequences and solutions to the crisis were then used to find where specifically that gap might exist.”

Channeling an Ethnic Studies lens, Henderson said Flint residents’ input should be at the forefront of the solution to this crisis.

“Flint residents are the experts in this situation. They’ve been living with lead poisoning in their water. They bathe themselves in bottled water daily, they can’t turn on faucets to drink water. Everything you do around water, you have to adjust your entire life. The people who’ve lived there for a long time understand the social dynamics of the institutions in Flint that let it get to where it has gone as an economic disinvested area that’s heavily comprised of people of color. One of the main differences between emergency responders and Flint residents is that the residents actually live in Flint. The emergency responders are coming in from other states and other areas in Michigan. Very few are experiencing what’s happening daily to Flint residents. That’s going to change the way you view the crisis. And if you can’t agree on what the causes are, you’ll never agree on the solution.”

Henderson’s research skills were further sharpened in USD’s Humanities Center as a Knapp Student Fellow. Working with a research group of faculty and other students focused on the varied scholarship of Visiting Professor Mike Davis, the project has “particular emphases on urban geographies and intersectionalities and transnational decolonial struggles across and against borders, of the mind, nation-state and related intersectional inequalities and standpoints of race-ethnicity, nation, gender and sexuality,” she said.

She’s also currently working on a personalized Ethnic Studies capstone centered on environmental contamination of family-owned land in Alabama. While this research in progress, it’s a reminder of just how much Jane Henderson has grown at USD.

“I’m at a place where I know who I am, what I care about and what I’m passionate about, things that matter to me in a way that didn’t before. I have put roots in places, invested in them, tended to the garden. My senior year, the fruits of my labor are coming through. This is a Jane in bloom.”

— Ryan T. Blystone and Calvin Brown, USD News Center