“Standing up for women’s rights is the key to the world,” Julia Parris said.
Julia realized her passion for advocating for women and children of color when she began college and read Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us, a book about black and Latina women who were victims of sex trafficking. “I realized that we needed to change this,” she said. A student at Siena College at the time, she created the Be Yourself group, an empowerment group for women of color.
“I’m a woman of color,” Julia said. “I study policy and I see that women of color are underrepresented in terms of education and other human rights issues, STEM fields, etc. It’s personal; it feels like there’s no one fighting for women of color.”
Born in Guyana, Julia moved to New York at age ten and upon high school graduation, she enrolled at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. She quickly realized how small and “restrictive” the school was, saying she “felt boxed in.” During her freshman year, she transferred to Marist. “I felt at home right away,” Julia said. “I found so many new opportunities and new people.”
She decided to join Marist’s Black Student Union (BSU). “It was important for me to explore my black identity,” Julia explained. “I found a place where the underrepresented group at Marist wanted to meet more people like them.” Julia found her niche with BSU, becoming fast friends with the members and was eventually elected to vice president of the organization. She cites BSU as being an “important” part of her life.
“With BSU, I’ve learned so much about myself and different black identities,” Julia said. “It gives us a name and a safe space on campus. It’s made me more outspoken about certain injustices and made others more sensitive to people of color on campus.”
It was Julia who led the BSU “kneel-in” protest at the Marist football game against Campbell University in October 2016. “We had spoken to the football players and they decided they wanted to link arms,” she said. BSU members kneeled on the sidelines during the national anthem. “It was our way of standing in solidarity with recent injustices involving police officers,” Julia said. “It’s important to take a stand, make it known that it affects all of us. Black lives do matter.”
Since taking a more active role on campus, Julia has been able to focus on her passion even more. As a political science major with a philosophy minor, Julia was accepted to study abroad in London for the fall 2015 semester as part of the Hansard Scholars program. She participated in two internships, with one of them being with Baroness Ruth Lister.
“She worked me to death but it was a great experience,” she said. Julia wrote speeches for her, including one that she was able to see delivered live. She served as a “gatekeeper” for the baroness, meeting with sex trafficking victims and working with policy groups.
Her second internship during her semester in London was for Doughty Chambers Street, a human rights law firm where renowned attorney Amal Clooney works. Julia specifically worked for Just-Fair, a human rights think tank similar to the office where she worked under the baroness. She was able to write speeches for a man that presented her speech at a Commonwealth meeting, and also worked on other human rights cases.
This work made Julia realize that she wanted to be a human rights attorney and specifically work for women and children of color. “I come from a line of abused women,” Julia shared. “I lived in a household with domestic violence.” After being introduced to feminist issues at Marist, it was then that she decided to become an advocate for women, that they should be “economically stable” and educated. “I realized why it’s important to send girls to school,” she said. “There are a whole bunch of things connected to this issue.”
In order to make her dreams a reality, Julia tries to emulate several strong women of color, including Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She also sees her older sisters Juliet and Alicia, as role models, because of “how much they’ve done” for her. “They grew up fast taking care of my family,” Julia explained. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Through the model set by these women, Julia has learned what it means to try and to fail. “I failed at being a biology major because I didn’t like it or feel comfortable,” she said. “For the longest time, I wanted to be an epidemiologist.”
When she transferred to Marist, she came in as a political science major on a pre-med track. “I thought it would be important to have that background,” she said. Julia did well in her political science classes and realized how much she loved the field. She soon dropped the pre-med track. “I know I tried and trusted myself,” she said.
Julia hopes that other people can see that despite her drive, she is also a hopeful young woman. “I have a good sense of humor and I genuinely care about people and animals,” she said. “But I’m also passionate about people and things I’m interested in. And despite how cliché it sounds, I want to change the world.”