It can be easy to feel powerless in the face of the multitude of injustices in the world today, but Andrea Brower, an adjunct instructor who teaches across the environmental studies, sociology, solidarity and social justice and leadership studies departments, works to empower her students to create change.
Brower is highly involved in activism, on everything from militarism, environmental struggles against the chemical industry in Hawaii, where she is from, and more recently the movement for Black lives.
“At the core of my activism, I’m really interested in questions of injustice that are just baked into, you can call it radicalized capitalism, and how we create really long-term systemic change to deal with those,” Brower said.
After she graduated from college, Brower returned home to Hawaii, where she then got involved in activism focused on direct action against militarization, she said. This opened the doors for her to get involved in activism surrounding decolonization and the struggles of working-class people as well.
Brower said she worked in the non-profit sector for a few years before returning to academia so she could further her understanding of the systemic forces behind the social issues she was dealing with.
She ended up completing her doctorate in activism scholar work, focusing on inequalities in the system, capitalism and the global justice movement, she said. Her thesis focused on direct immersion and involvement in the environmental struggles on the islands against the chemical industry. Brower also said she will be publishing a book on the same subject this year.
“I became deeply interested in questions of capitalism and capitalist inequality and exploitation that is fundamentally baked into the system,” Brower said.
Elif Beall, an attorney turned writer, met Brower through their work together on a social movement on Kauai aimed at regulating the actions of multinational corporations that were using the land as a testing site for pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“We’ve become really good friends, so I know her not only as an activist and as an intellectual person but as a human, and she’s just amazing,” Beall said about Brower.
The pair worked together from 2013 to 2014 at the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), acting as the public relations team. They wrote news releases to demonstrate the point of view of the residents impacted by corporations using the land as testing grounds, Beall said.
As for Brower’s role specifically, Beall described it as being an adviser, helping put the movement in the context of what the local community was experiencing.
“She was so brilliant at putting it in the context of the larger global system, and how what was happening on Kauai was an example of what’s happening all around the world and a bigger picture of how the multinational corporations operate,” Beall said.
Brower said she does her best to live her values by practicing sustainability through riding her bike whenever possible, composting, growing her own food and getting hand-me-down clothes.
However, Brower is hesitant to say that individual actions will fix climate change issues. She also said that living sustainably is a privilege she recognizes not everyone has.
“It is my belief and my factual understanding based on history that it is social movements pushing for rearrangements of power in systems that are what’s going to tackle the greatest kind of environment problems, catastrophe that you could say we face today,” Brower said.
Here at Gonzaga, Brower aims to help her students understand systematic injustices, as well as empower her students to believe that they are able to create changes.
“The No. 1 thing I aim to convey in all of my classes is the possibility of change,” Brower said.
Isaac Pacor, a senior majoring in sociology who has taken multiple classes taught by Brower, said Brower teaches in a way that connects her own experiences with social activism to the course material.
Pacor describes Brower as warm and kind, and said that she teaches in what she calls a "horizontal classroom," meaning she is learning as much from her students as they are learning from her. While it can be tough learning about complex social issues that are deeply rooted, she does a good job of remaining cautiously optimistic, Pacor said.
“She teaches in a way that doesn’t water down the severity of a lot of the world’s problems, but it also doesn’t leave you in this state of unconstrued cynicism, which I think is really awesome,” Pacor said.
Brower said that none of the world’s problems are inevitable, that they are created by man-made systems that can be undone, and that the possibility of social change is always imminent. She also said her students’ passion and creativity allow her to learn from them and be inspired by them.
“I think our collective sense of disempowerment today is one of the greatest dangers that we actually face, and that when we know our power, when we know the power that we have to change history, to change systems, to challenge injustices, then there is really nothing that can stop the power of people engaged in moral fight for the common good,” Brower said.