5 USC Dornsife alumni activists look for solutions to pressing challenges
An Emmy Award-winning actress who was the opening speaker for the 2017 Women’s March. A rabbi who performed the first same-sex marriage in California. A lawyer advocating for the family of those in jail. As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, meet five USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science alumni who are working to make the world a better place for all.
The Radical Rabbi
Denise Eger (religion, ’82) began her career as a rabbi in 1988 serving a gay synagogue in Los Angeles at the height of the AIDs crisis. She made daily visits to patients stricken by the disease.
“I was 28 years old and working every day to bury young men who passed away,” Eger said. “Those years shaped me.”
In the decades since, she’s advocated for prison reform, racial justice and economic equity. In 2008, she performed the first same-sex marriage in the state of California. In 2015, she marched with the NAACP from Arkansas to Washington, D.C. Read more about Denise >
Speaking for Justice
Blake Oshiro (English, ’92) served in Hawaii’s House of Representatives for more than 10 years. Throughout his tenure, he fought to legalize same-sex unions, delivering a rousing speech to his colleagues during an intense debate on the topic in 2010.
“When I gave my speech, I used the myth of Sisyphus, condemned to eternally push a boulder up a hill, as an analogy for the ongoing battle faced by civil union advocates,” Oshiro said. He had studied the myth while a student at USC Dornsife.
In 2013, thanks to the work of representatives like Oshiro, Hawaii legalized same-sex unions. Read more about Blake >
A Special Sisterhood
While working as a housing lawyer in New York City, Gina Clayton (American studies and ethnicity, ’06) became aware of the impact incarceration has on women. About 90% of inmates are men, which means women are often left to care for children and family finances alone. Clayton formed the Essie Justice Group as a way to empower these women through training and community-building. “This was a group of women who I thought, if their silence could be broken, could be powerful advocates for themselves and for others,” she said. Read more about Clayton >
Give Me Shelter
As a political science student at USC Dornsife, Tessa Maddens Storms ’11 was struck by the homelessness crisis. She volunteered with various organizations, including Chrysalis, a nonprofit that helps homeless individuals find jobs that she found through USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project.
After graduation, Storms followed a contact from Chrysalis to People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), where she now oversees their work in Santa Barbara, California, working to find permanent housing for homeless people. Read more about Tessa >
Using Her Stage
Growing up, America Ferrera ’13 felt torn between wanting to make a difference in the world and her desire to become an actress. While she studied international relations at USC Dornsife, professor David Andrus revealed that her film Real Women Have Curves had been a source of inspiration for a Latina teenager he had been mentoring.
“What my professor really wanted me to understand was that my passion for acting and what I loved doing in the world had the power to be a tool,” she said.