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Q & A with ASPLU Environmental Justice Director

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Student Kenzie Knapp stands in front of a city bus at the Tacoma Transit Center. Behind her is another city bus parked for passengers to board.

Image: Kenzie Knapp ’23, incoming ASPLU Environmental Justice Director at the Pierce Co Transit center near campus, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, at PLU. One of her goals is encouraging public transit use. (Photo/John Froschauer)

September 2, 2021
By Veronica Craker
Marketing & Communications

In the spring of 2021, Kenzie Knapp ’23 was awarded a Udall Foundation scholarship. The Udall Foundation awards scholarships, fellowships, and internships to students pursuing fields of study related to the environment or Native American nations.

Knapp has served as a G.R.E.A.N. club officer, is currently co-chair of the Student Sustainability Committee, and is a leader of the Tacoma hub of the Sunrise Movement of young people fighting for intersectional environmental justice. She is also the incoming ASPLU Environmental Justice Director.

We spoke with Knapp on her award, the opportunity it provides her, and her goals for the incoming school year.

Why did you pursue the Udall Scholarship?

The Udall Scholarship was very intersectional in the way that I like because there were three categories you could apply for which are Indigenous policy, Indigenous public health and the environment, so I hoped to expand my knowledge on and share how these intersect. I was really excited to apply for the environment category. Dr. Nancy Simpson-Younger was an exceptional part of the process and one of the best mentors I could ask for. She was very understanding and attentive and checked in with me as I was applying. She was so accommodating and gave really valuable feedback that was not only helpful for this scholarship but also for other scholarships I might apply for in the future.

As a scholarship winner, you had the opportunity to attend the Udall Scholar Orientation virtually. What was that experience like?

We met over four days and we had keynote speakers. One of which was an Udall alumni speaking on why it was challenging for her to get into Environmental studies and why she felt like they didn’t fit in, especially as a student of color because of how the environmental field has unfortunately been perceived to be predominantly white folks, despite indigenous leadership through the years. I had a crash course on indigenous governments and the road to sovereignty as far as intergovernmental relations. We also had a public service fair where we went into breakouts so we could talk to individuals who are working in these fields so we could get advice on our own careers. I was definitely inspired to hear from all these awesome people.

What excites you about serving on the ASPLU?

I am so grateful for being here in that I can tangibly make a difference that I wanted to make when I first came to campus. I feel like with the nature of the smallness of the PLU student body I feel my voice can actually be heard. My favorite thing from last year was learning that I am not alone in that. There was an amazing influx of freshmen who very much care about the same topics. So getting to create the Student Sustainability Committee was certainly fulfilling . It was great to meet with folks who are like-minded and I’m excited to build upon that.

What goals do you have for this school year as the ASPLU Environmental Justice Director?

My goal is to make changes that will last beyond me. We often see people come into positions like these who are super passionate but then the foundation isn’t laid for the future. I really hope to do my best to prevent that.

There are a couple of legislations for student government that I am super excited to keep writing. I would love to work on providing more widespread free public transit by using student government funds. I know my experience as a freshman who didn’t have a car and Tacoma is a 30-minute bus ride away and it’s $2 one way like it really adds up for students and it takes time. I hope to make that more accessible for everyone so we can explore Tacoma more. I would also love to work on reconvening and being a part of the University Sustainability Committee. That’s part of that long-lasting change a lot of us are hoping to continue for years to come.