Leah Thomas ’17, B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy – Schmid College of Science and Technology
Alliyah (Leah) Thomas was among the first cohort of students studying Environmental Science at Schmid College and completed her studies in 2017. In just three short years since graduation, she has gone on to become a nationally recognized voice in sustainability and environmental issues and disparities through freelance writing and blogging to more than 160,000 followers on Instagram. In recent months, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed how prevalent racism is across all industries and how standing up to injustice is necessary in all fields, from media to law enforcement, from athletics to art, and beyond, Leah voiced that the environmentalist movement is no exception in providing and necessitating equal opportunities for true justice, diversity, and inclusion for all. On Instagram, she is @greengirlleah, where she makes it clear that even in our search for sustainable materials, vegan foods, and renewable energy, anti-racism still matters. She uses her popular social media presence to make a difference in unexpected ways. Featured in Vogue Magazine, she served to educate young fashionistas about purchasing responsibly sourced materials and the importance of corresponding the lifecycle of clothing with the associated damage the industry does to our planet. Leah has also launched her own website, Intersectional Environmentalist, which provides a platform for advocates and activists to provide information, resources and actionable steps to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement.
Q&A with Leah Thomas
We asked this year’s winners about their experiences at Chapman and what advice they have for current students.
Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman? Why?
It’s a tie between Dr. Jason Keller, whom I met at a Social Justice Retreat while I was a student, and Social Sciences Professor Dr. Georgiana Bostean. Dr. Keller was inspiring and incredibly passionate about social justice and the environmentalism movement and allowed me to think of the two intersecting in ways that I had not previously considered. I maintain regular contact with Dr. Keller to this day and am keenly aware that he continues his work in these fields. Dr. Bostean was my professor of Social Sciences. She was the professor that really made the study of sociology “cool” in how she used concrete data on the way people behave and merged them into the themes of social justice.
If you could go back and experience one moment from your time at Chapman, what would it be? Is there anything that you would do differently?
It seems silly…the undie run. I wish I could go back and do that again with my friends and just have fun. Going back in time would allow me to be incognito and I would be able to just enjoy the moment of such great times without anyone watching me or judging me. There was nothing at Chapman (even the worst times) that would have made my life impossible. In terms of doing anything differently, I wish that I had gone for a double major and added Sociology so that I would now have an even greater understanding of societal trends, issues and research.
What were the most challenging social issues in our country/world that you faced as a young college student? What was your perspective or how did you get involved? Have your opinions on these issues changed or stayed the same? Give an example…
I am going to be candid and share the hurt and disappointment that I felt when a former top administrator at Chapman suggested that adding a Cross -Cultural Center to the Chapman campus, would make the campus “ghetto.” Hearing that from the leader of the school was devastating, but it was just the real start of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I had almost run away from my race — choosing to believe that it didn’t matter what my skin color was and that everything would be okay. BLM helped me embrace my race and realize that there is a lot of work left to do on the subject of race, discrimination, equity and so much more. I am thrilled that the current Chapman leadership saw the urgent need and brought the Cross-Cultural Center to campus, realizing its importance within underserved communities for the representation of these students.
As a student, I read a lot of anonymous postings on a social media site called Yik-Yak, which appeared to be posted by fellow students that were shockingly racist. I realized that if there was going to be a change in any student attitude that I would need to be part of the change to bring this to the forefront and have conversations about these kinds of insidious thoughts. My advice to students is to GET INVOLVED, walk in marches, participate in protests, etc. Everyone has a voice and it matters—don’t be afraid to be heard.
What do you wish you knew at the time of your graduation (about life, careers, family, best place for tacos, etc.) that you know now? What advice can you give to the students and/or recent graduates of today?
I wish I would have known that regardless of any external validation that we’re all worthy and that our jobs, friends, social life, relationships or whatever don’t make us worthy. It’s so, so important to love ourselves and not let anything external define us or how we feel about ourselves.
How did Chapman prepare you for your career? How did your experience prepare you for the real world?
It helped me navigate different political spaces and learn how to talk to a different demographic of people — which is really helpful in communications work!