At Williams, Sendor blossoms into environmental champion

For months, most Williams Outing Club (WOC) members didn’t even think that Julia Sendor ’08 was an actual student on campus. Sendor was just another anonymous name attached to the WOC list-serve. Little did they know, she was their organization’s secretary. “Apparently people thought I wasn’t a real person,” Sendor said. “My last name is Send-or, so they thought it was a pun. Friends had to confirm my identity, my existence.”

It may be easy for Sendor’s friends to confirm her existence, but defining her identity is a much more complicated task. Sendor’s diverse roles on campus range from being a Phi Beta Kappa senior to secretary of WOC, co-leader of Thursday Night Group, tutor for the Center for Development Economics and the Writing Workshop, Peace Valley Farm volunteer and Gospel Choir member.

It is instantly clear that Sendor is an avid environmental enthusiast. Not only is she majoring in environmental studies, but her fervor for the environment has also propelled her toward most of her extracurricular activities. Surprisingly, Sendor’s passion only developed on campus, as she had a very limited knowledge of environmental studies before college. “I was in my high school environmental club, but we mostly did recycling and some trail work,” Sendor said. “In my mind I was really interested in the environment, but to me that just sort of meant being outside.”

For Sendor, all of that changed when she took the introductory environmental studies course with Professor Kai Lee. “I don’t know how I thought about the world before I took that class,” she said. “It completely expanded everything I thought about [environmental studies]. I never thought I’d be interested in politics or economics, but now I’m writing my thesis through the [political science] department.”

In her academic work, Sendor has found a perfect balance between her political and environmental interests. Her thesis describes the grassroots activism against coal mining in West Virginia and Arizona. Sendor refers to such destructive coal mining, called mountaintop removal, in the regions as “strip mining on steroids” – dumping waste into rivers and valleys, polluting drinking water and producing mass quantities of toxic sludge held back by precarious earth dams – all of which can cause catastrophic environmental damage to the area. Sendor traveled to both West Virginia and Arizona last summer to talk to some of the leaders of the local grassroots organizations fighting mountaintop removal.
“These are people who traditionally haven’t had any voice – and have gotten international attention trying to stop these things,” Sendor said. “I felt like I didn’t want to write my thesis without having a sense of who these people are and what’s going on. It’s made an amazing difference knowing who I’m writing about.”

In keeping with this synthesis of environmentalism and social justice, Sendor studied abroad in Nicaragua last year after her Winter Study course sparked her interest in the country. There, she spent two months in a rural village immersed in the culture, teaching at a local school and working with village women who were hoping to revive their indigenous heritage. The experience taught Sendor that “I could have ideas, and ask questions, and be kind of a small catalyst to get things going.”

In addition, she formed close bonds with the people in the village, and is planning a trip back there this summer to become godmother to the child of a teacher she worked with.
Her time in Nicaragua with various villagers showed Sendor the significance of the language barrier. On her first visit there, “it was so frustrating not to be able to express myself,” she said. Upon her return to campus, she decided to devote more of her time to tutoring foreign students in English and writing. This year, after becoming proficient in Spanish through studying abroad, Sendor is working with two Spanish-speaking students at the Center for Development Economics. Additionally, Sendor is helping a student at the Writing Workshop achieve his own goals for social justice. “I’m still in touch with a gay student from Kazakhstan who wants to work for gay rights [there] because there really are none,” she said. “He wants to start his own non-profit, and I’ve worked with him a lot on papers he’s writing for graduate school and applying for various grants.”

Sendor has definitely enjoyed numerous off-campus experiences abroad, but she asserts that living with a close network of friends has been the critical factor in shaping her Williams experience. “It’s an amazing support group – I like to think about each friend and all of the ways of looking at the world that I’ve learned from each one,” she said. “Katie Craig [’08] was one of my best friends, and she was supposed to live with us this year, too. She taught me a ton about living joyfully and with a sense of purpose, and just living life to the fullest. In some ways I think this year has been dedicated to her and trying to keep that spirit alive.”

Undoubtedly, Sendor has taken advantage of the opportunities on campus, but she doesn’t plan to stop there. In the future, Sendor has tentative plans to work with an environmental organization even though she has considered returning to Nicaragua or joining the Peace Corps. “I have sort of a mix of wanting to go bopping around the world, exploring – and wanting to put down roots somewhere,” Sendor said. “I’m definitely still sorting through those ideas.” Although Sendor’s future may not be clear, it is certainly bright.