Since her freshman year, University of New Mexico sophomore Feleecia Guillen has fought for climate justice as a member of UNM Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight. Her unbridled passion for climate action has driven her to advocate for community health and survival on both a university and statewide level.
“My passion for climate change and climate action really started when I joined UNM LEAF … I had a general knowledge of everything going on with the climate, but it wasn’t until I joined UNM LEAF that I really started to understand exactly the issues that we are facing,” Guillen said.
Guillen followed UNM LEAF’s work throughout her senior year of high school when social media drove her interest in sustainability and environmental issues over the COVID-19 pandemic. From there, she founded Youth Climate Action Coalition New Mexico, where she and other members participated in trash cleanup and other direct action projects.
Guillen became involved with LEAF her freshman year at UNM. She was initially overwhelmed by the flood of information on fossil fuel divestment and LEAF’s recent complaint to the attorney general regarding the UNM Foundation’s continued investments in fossil fuels to fund scholarships and campus initiatives. However, she quickly moved on to become the group’s freshman liaison and now serves as director of finances.
Robert Devine joined LEAF this September after attending their rally calling for UNM’s divestment from fossil fuels. Since then, Devine has been grateful to find a community within LEAF. He has been particularly impressed by Guillen’s contributions to the group since he joined.
“So far (UNM LEAF) has been a very positive experience, especially as someone coming out of a rough patch in my life. Having that stability and a new group of leaders that I honestly believe in, including Feleecia, is a good thing for me,” Devine said.
As the director of finances, Guillen organizes with alumni and the nonprofit Earth Care New Mexico to ensure that UNM LEAF’s finances are in order. She also puts together fundraising events. Her work is not limited to this however — her work spans across the organization, doing “a little bit of everything,” such as filling in gaps in communications, digital media and attending events and meetings.
As a leader, she has showcased an impactful presence to other LEAF members, including Devine.
“Feleecia’s a really good member of the organization, from what I’ve known and how I’ve interacted with her,” Devine said.
Guillen is also currently working through UNM on a resolution aimed to remove plastics from campus; they are currently conducting an audit on plastic-use on campus, which they eventually hope to present to leadership from the 2040 Climate Pledge.
For Guillen, work with UNM LEAF can be frustrating at times, especially due to the University’s lack of prioritization of climate issues and constant pushback on university-level changes that they push for.
“Environmental activism — it is hard. It is mentally challenging because you do all of this work, you go out to protests, you work with legislators to try to get these bills passed, but there’s so much pushback and it’s so overwhelming,” Guillen said.
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Luckily, both Guillen and Devine said that they have found a community in UNM LEAF. There are support groups within the organization that have formed a strong bond over the challenges of the work, according to Guillen. Besides that, Guillen finds comfort in the face of unimaginable environmental damage by stressing the importance of personal change, though some minimize the impact of it.
“I’ve kind of had this view … (that) if we’re not doing anything systematically, nothing’s gonna really change. But then I was like, ‘no, Feleecia, why are you thinking like that?’ Our personal values, what we do on a personal level, goes so far,” Guillen said. “... and so I think changing my view a little bit really does help me combat these negative views.”
Currently, Guillen is a general management major with a sustainability studies minor. She hopes to eventually form either a sustainability-focused nonprofit or create a B corporation — a for-profit company which meets the highest standard for social and environmental responsibility. Her work with LEAF has also sparked an interest in politics and governmental climate action.
“It’s been such an empowering thing to be part of such a big change. UNM LEAF is doing so many unique things that honestly is so awesome to be a part of,” Guillen said.
Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle