Christina Lara ’19

Native student finds community and feeds passion for environmental studies

When Christina Lara ’19 visited the University of Redlands campus for the first time, Native Student Programs piqued her interest and she knew she wanted to get involved.

Three years later, Lara’s many activities at Redlands includes acting as president of the Native American Student Union (NASU). “Being involved with Native Student Programs gives me the opportunity to reach out to other student organizations and see how we can work together,” says Lara.

One of these student groups is Students for Environmental Action. As a Navajo and environmental studies major, Lara is concerned about land use and sustainability, especially when it comes to Native land. When the Dakota Access Pipeline protest began on the Standing Rock reservation in 2016, Lara organized a letter writing party where students gathered to write letters to Congress urging policymakers to stop the construction of the pipeline.

“Even though I didn’t grow up on a reservation, I still know my people need help,” she says. “After we sent the letters we wrote, we walked as a group to the chapel to raise awareness for what was happening at Standing Rock.”

Lara appreciates her professors’ responsiveness to her background. She notes that Professor of Environmental Studies Dan Klooster regularly speaks about the environmental issues that plague certain indigenous groups and taught Lara about local farming and indigenous populations in other countries.

In addition to feeding her passion for environmental issues, Lara has found other communities she can be a part of in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI). An alumna of Summer Bridge, Lara mentors incoming first-generation students during the summer. She says she wants to give students the same memorable experience she received as a first-year student. 

“Being a mentor definitely feels like a lot of work, especially with the meetings and planning,” she says, “but this program does so much for the first-years coming in—they feel the program changes their lives, and they often want to be mentors, too.”

Lara says there’s a sense that students can lean on each other in CDI. During her first year at Redlands, other students from CDI and Native Student Programs invited her to events. Thanks to recurring dinners on Sunday nights and trips to the movies, Lara was able to build a community where she felt accepted and supported. 

During her time at Redlands, Lara says she has discovered a thing or two about herself. “I have definitely learned what my strengths and weaknesses are,” she says with a laugh. “My community has taught me a lot, and now I can see my own potential.”