| 03.20.2018

Habits of a humanitarian – Graduating MFA student Jessica McDermott leaves a legacy of social justice


For graduating MFA student Jessica McDermott, social action is a way of life. During her three years as a graduate student at the University of Idaho, McDermott has led and coordinated a seemingly endless list of projects to promote social justice and philanthropy.

“I”ve found that there are always ways to help make a difference,” McDermott said.

She said during her time at UI she worked as a DJ for KRFP for a year and a half. She said her radio show consisted of hour-long interviews with women who were doing empowering work, followed by an hour of music from female artists.

“I had never done anything like that with radio before and I learned a lot,” McDermott said. “I”ve also tried to find ways to mix art and activism.”

She said she participated in the Feminist Poetry Slam last year and acted in this year”s production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

McDermott also said she was involved in a project called Boxes and Walls.

“The point of Boxes and Walls was to be able to step into a room and be able to step into someone else”s reality,” she said. “In our room we tried to recreate what a sex trafficking victim”s room would look like.”

McDermott has also spearheaded multiple projects to help refugees and educate communities against xenophobia. To do this she said she hosted a Campus Conversation event through the Center for Volunteerism and Social Action. McDermott said the event was intended to allow a safe space for discussion in regard to the recent refugee crisis.

She said her continued work related to the refugee crisis led her to meet Frank and Frances Rodriguez, who are both active social justice advocates in the Moscow community.

Frank is a member of the Palouse Peace and Justice Coalition and Frances is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force.

McDermott said she, Frank and Frances have collaborated on a number of events including a community event in which McDermott gathered panelists to speak to an audience of over 60 Moscow community members.

Frances said the event worked very well because it provided some form of unity between the Moscow community and concerned students on campus.

“There were some students and a lot of community members, which was nice, because often what happens on campus and what happens in the community don”t have a common ground,” she said. “Most students feel that the campus is their world and they don”t really venture off of that very often.”

Frank said McDermott”s work has been helpful in connecting the Moscow community and the UI student body.

“A student like Jesse is exactly what we need in the community because she acts as a bridge in some ways,” he said. “It”s really a pleasure to have someone like her around and I hate to see that she”s leaving.”

Frank said that McDermott”s awareness and knowledge of social justice topics makes her special and her presence will be missed.

McDermott said after graduation she plans to move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and continue pursuing social justice.

“I think (social justice) is important for me because it”s a way of life that I don”t think I would be as happy or feel as fulfilled if I didn”t live this way,” McDermott said. “If you care about social justice it can”t just be something you care about while you”re at work or when you”re with a certain group of people. It”s a way of living, and I think for me I”ve found it”s the only way I want to live.”

Austin Maas  can be reached at  arg-news@uidaho.edu  or on Twitter @austindmaas

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