Social Justice is a Way of Living Your Life

Apr 23, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Irene Kanthan

CAPA_Claire Shrader_Buenos Aires_Headshot.jpgClaire Shrader is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Pre-Occupational Therapy major at Mississippi College, she is studying abroad in Buenos Aires this semester.

In this week's post, Claire gets to know her favorite Buenos Aires professor Marlena Reimer better and details Marlena's impactful experiences and social justice work.


When I first “met” Marlena, it was through a video chat Spanish interview. I was kind of terrified because I wasn’t sure what exactly would happen if I did badly on my Spanish language interview, and it was just a few weeks after Christmas so I was seriously rusty.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - Together with RD Marlena ReimerMeeting Buenos Aires resident director Marlena Reimer in person!

At the end of the interview, she asked if I had any more questions. Soon after the interview, my brothers enlightened me that that question was about Argentina, CAPA, the study abroad experience that we had literally just been discussing. Did I ask any questions relating to these things? No. I asked her what brought her from her home state of California to Argentina. My brothers mercilessly made fun of me when I told them the details of my interview and my question at the end. But I recognized that her story was one I needed to know even just from that odd little interview, and so I’m so glad I got to sit down with her last week and ask her as many questions as I wanted!

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - Meet RD Marlena ReimerMarlena teaches a course for CAPA's Global Internship Program.

Marlena is the Buenos Aires resident director, and she’s also my professor for the Global Internship course. This course is, as she says, the discussion piece of our internships, which serve as the lecture. Following this layout, our class meetings hold dynamic discussions on what it means to be from the United States, intercultural communication, Argentina’s complex relationship with the U.S., and discrimination/minority rights. It’s really a neat setting to get to learn the facts behind the things we are feeling everyday living and working in Buenos Aires, and Marlena has created an open environment where discussion comes easily and everyone knows their contributions are valuable. Beyond just that component, we are gaining skills for future work both in U.S. and international settings. This class is beyond useful.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - A Flowering PlantMarlena started exploring her own ideas of her hometown, the ideas of her peers,
and even did a research project on her neighborhood.

I began by asking her to tell me one story from her study abroad experience in Salvador, Bahía, Brazil that really impacted her. Her program focused on Afro-Brazilian history and Portuguese language, and she couldn’t narrow it down to just ONE impactful moment. She talked about how uncomfortable it was to know that the beach, which was the hot spot for tourists, was also the site where African slaves were first brought to Brazil. “This isn’t necessarily a story per se, but I think there’s something really devastating and moving at the same time about living in a place and experiencing how the history has impacted communities. I remember sitting on the beach in Salvador with friends thinking, ‘This is terrifying. How are we sitting here right now enjoying ourselves when this is literally a site of devastation and terror?’”

If you spend even just a few minutes with Marlena, you’ll know that social justice is a passion of hers. She credits this passion, in part, to where she grew up. Fresno, California, is one of the most impoverished cities in the U.S. Though she finds value in the opportunities she had in different aspects, she also admits that growing up in Fresno, where people don’t often leave, where most don’t graduate high school, where there’s major health epidemics due to agricultural run-offs and just a general lack of attention from the government—was hard.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - Rio de la plata outside the Immigrants' Hotel on a My Global City TourFacing Rio de la Plata outside the Immigrants' Hotel
on a My Global City tour led by Marlena. 

She spoke to the interesting experience of growing up there and then moving to the San Francisco Bay area at Berkeley. “I don’t even think I knew what it meant to grow up in Fresno until I moved to Berkeley and was around students who, for the most part, were upper middle-class. There were little things, even conversations like, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ and people either wouldn’t know where that was or they would make a joke about it. I was fine, but it was eye-opening.”

She took this experience of living in a new place to better understand what makes Fresno, Fresno. She started exploring her own ideas of her hometown, the ideas of her peers, and even did a research project on her neighborhood.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - Art Museum Attached to the Immigrants' HotelVisiting the art museum attached to the Immigrants' Hotel.

Another pivotal experience that drives her passion for social justice was the work she did with a literacy program in undergrad, as well as action and student organizing on campus, such as the role of the State Deputy of Student Government, at a time when the state of California was in the middle of protests against budget hikes.

Some of Marlena’s past and current projects have combined the arts and social justice, and she often wears the most beautiful, unique pieces of jewelry that are her own creations. I was interested in how the two fit together. This, too, can be traced back to her childhood home in Fresno with her mom who’s a ceramic artist. The arts—whether through childhood crafts like making clothes out of paper with her sister, or singing in choir, which she did through high school and college—have always been a part of her life. “I’ve always loved the arts, but after high school I pretty much ditched them, because Berkeley and just society in general tells you [that] you have to pick a certain concentration and stick to it.”

CAPAStudyAbroad_Buenos Aires_Spring2018_From Claire Shrader - A Dog in the CityA sight from Buenos Aires this week.

Although she found herself working in a lot of programmatic roles because she was able to do them well, she had a wise supervisor who encouraged her to think through what exactly she wanted to do, not just what she was able to do. This led her back to the passions of her childhood, and since, she’s started pursuing more of what she loves.

One last note from Marlena:

“I learned that for me, social justice is a way of living your life. It’s being engaged, reading the news, talking to people, not saying things aren’t important just because they don’t affect you. Yeah, that’s it for me. Regardless of whatever job I have to take to sustain my livelihood, it will always be part of what I do.”

Thank you, Marlena, for sharing a piece of your life story with us and for being open to all of the random questions I threw at you! For those reading, I hope you, like me, let her words inspire you to go out and do whatever dream you have in your head, because even though so often we feel limited by the lack of letters behind our name or size of our resume, Marlena is such a beautiful example that you really can make a huge impact on the world from your college campus (or office desk or study abroad resident director role or wherever this life takes you).

Thanks Claire!

Claire's journey continues every Monday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Buenos Aires Program

Topics: Buenos Aires, Argentina, Human Rights, Civil Rights