When I arrived at my interview with Jillian Schwiep ’13, I was in total Saturday slump mode. I desired nothing more than to curl up on the common room couch and stream Modern Family on Hulu.
Forty minutes later, I left wanting to change the world. More impressive than Jillie’s unwavering dedication to social justice, however, was her bubbly personality. Whether we were chatting about gym fashion or the social implications of Mexican immigration, she approached every topic with the kind of contagious enthusiasm that makes life’s little and big problems seem perfectly surmountable.
So how did a Sunshine State native like you end up in this winter wonderland?
I had a friend from Nicaragua who recommended it. When I got my acceptance letter, I was on the beach. My mom called and said, “Hey, we got a letter from this school you randomly applied to.” I was like, “Go ahead, open it.” She was like, “You got in.” I was like, “Okay, whatever.” But then I visited and loved it. Even though I still can’t deal with the cold.
Where else were you considering?
I was actually considering Wellesley. But do you know Owen Barnett-Mulligan [’13]? I met him when I was here for Previews. I was freezing my butt off, and he gave me his jacket. He knew I was leaving for Wellesley, and he sent me a Facebook message that said, “How was Wellesley? Bet there wasn’t any nice guy to lend you his jacket.” I was like, “Good point. Really good point.”
So true! No chivalrous men at Wellesley! Ok, so you’re the first junior we’ve interviewed this year. Any plans to study abroad?
Next semester, I’m doing the IHP program that goes to New York City for two weeks, then to India, Senegal and Argentina. You look at urban problems in these different cities – environmental problems, political problems, social and racial problems. It’s exactly what I want because I actually want to go back to Miami and make that city better.
What issues are you examining in Miami?
I’m passionate about immigration. My dad’s Cuban. Actually, most people in Miami are immigrants from somewhere.
Do you like the city?
I love Miami! It’s really hard to be here and miss home all the time, but it’s worthwhile. I’ve learned so much from engaging in this community.
So are you incorporating your roots into what you’re studying here?
Yeah, I’m planning on doing a thesis on the McDuffy riots in Miami, which have to do with the African-American community. There was this guy who was speeding on his motorcycle, and these four white police officers chased him down and beat him to death. It went to court, and they all kind of got off scot-free. It set off the most violent race riots in the United States.
How have I not heard about this?
I hadn’t either. But you know what’s really weird – I called my dad, and he told me that my bedroom in my old house used to be the room of one of those police officers who later committed suicide! After I found out that weird personal connection, I thought, “maybe this is something I want to do.”
That’s crazy! But speaking of racial and cultural issues, I was creeping on your Facebook and saw that you took a winter study trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. How was that?
It was incredible! I’m interested in immigration in general. I knew a lot about Cuban and Haitian immigration, but not so much about Mexican. We went back and forth across the border and spent time in cities and met some of the people affected by border issues. For example, we got to talk with members of a Native American nation whose land had been cut across by this physical border. We also learned a lot about Mexico and how, since it’s harder to cross the border now, families are split on either side. There are no easy answers, but being a political economy major, I’m constantly trying to think about what that answer would be.
What are some of your hobbies outside social justice research?
It’s funny you asked that! My roommate was making fun of me! She was like, “Your hobbies are SAT tutoring, econ tutoring, intense peer health counseling.” But I do some fun stuff. I do pottery!
In Pownal, Vt. I usually go on Saturday mornings. I work with this awesome artist. Have you heard of the Empty Bowl Dinner? I got to make bowls for that. It’ll be in April. It’s this event where a bunch of local restaurants have donated soup and the artists have donated their bowls, and it raises money for charity.
Even pottery is tied to social justice.
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess that’s right! I’m trying to think of something just silly. I really like decorating, so I love hanging out in my common room that I decorated. It’s got lots of bright colors. And I mean, I run. And I like hiking and backpacking. That’s not social justice!
Do you work out a lot?
Mostly I run, but sometimes I go to the gym. When I was home at the University of Miami gym, there were all these girls wearing neon leggings with bows in their hair. But you know how people at Williams dress kinda sloppy . . . well, my friend who goes to UM was like, “What are you wearing?” But that’s what Williams has done to me!
You mentioned hiking. Are you into outdoorsy stuff, too?
I like to do a lot of kayaking and canoeing and outdoor stuff over the summer, but I haven’t figured out how to do that here. I just can’t deal with the cold. But I was so excited to be here this past summer and finally have the chance to do all that stuff.
So where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?
I want to go back to Miami. I’m interested in politics, but most politicians in Miami go to law school first. I might want to be a law professor, because that way you’re infiltrating the minds of all the people who are going to be politicians themselves. It has farther-reaching effects. Actually, that sounds kind of diabolical. [Laughs] Sorry, with all this social justice stuff, I’m worried this is going to be the darkest One in 2000 ever.
No way! The column is only dark if the interviewee is dark. And you are far from it.
[Laughs] Good. I’ll keep trying to think of hobbies that aren’t related to social justice.