Monica Estrada Arias

Cowell '20, legal studies

Monica Estrada Arias (Cowell '20, legal studies). Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta

Monica Estrada Arias never met the young man. An activist, he was killed during the 2019 protests in Chile. Yet, as part of a team of UC Santa Cruz students researching the demonstrations, which erupted over cost-of-living increases and economic equalities, Estrada said she will always feel a connection to him.

While at UC Santa Cruz, the legal studies major was part of an open-source research project undertaken by the campus’s Human Rights Investigations Lab for the Americas done in collaboration with UC Berkeley’s lab. Estrada’s role was to create a story map detailing the life and death of a single young activist using his social media posts and comparing them with news reports at the time.

The result is a report that is expected to be published in the coming months.

For Estrada, now 23, the research was a chance to learn first-hand the importance of social media in the modern world of revolution and reform.

“I saw how closely tethered an activist is to social media,” Estrada said. “I realized how social media has changed activism, and how important it is to have a platform to speak from. Through an activist’s social media presence, you can look through the cracks (in government and media reporting) and see what else is going on.”

A first-generation college student from Orange County, Estrada also spent three months interning at New America, a Washington, D.C., think tank devoted to addressing social, economic, and political problems. There, she helped produce a report on citizen engagement in local democracies across the Americas and Europe.

She hopes graduate school or law school is in her future.

Through the Human Rights Investigations Lab, Estrada said, she found a way to contribute to society and effect change even while studying and working part-time to support herself. She was inspired, she said, by people, including those ones who came before her, who are working for justice, especially for undocumented immigrants.

As she prepared a timeline of the activist’s life and death, she said she was struck by the fact he wasn’t much older than she was and that he’d experienced some of the same life events she had before he died.

“And even though I will never meet him or some of the other activists who made those changes,” she said, “I feel connected to them in many ways. I feel part of a transnational community to continue social justice work.”