Courtesy of DoSomething.org
You may be familiar with Deja Foxx as a viral sensation for standing up at a town hall meeting to address Arizona state Senator, Jeff Flake, and his agreement to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. It’s possible you may also recognize her from Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 feature in 2018, where she was highlighted as an activist and advocate for many of those who are scared to use their voices and shed light on what has been dubbed as “hidden homelessness.”
In celebration of powerful young women, particularly those heading back to school, we caught up with Deja to get a glimpse into her world as a student and activist. Check out our discussion with Deja as we explore what’s next for her in her second year at Columbia University, breakdown her own personal style, and uncover what she’s hoping to accomplish in the near future and beyond.
Answers have been edited for clarity.
In the past few years, you’ve emerged among your peers as an activist and critical source of inspiration and leadership in key movements from health access and reproductive health rights to housing insecurity and homelessness. Can you tell us more about your work over the past two years and the organizations that you’ve started?
After growing a platform and gaining first-hand experience lobbying on Capitol Hill for birth control access after a viral encounter with my Senator, I returned home ready to make a lasting change for my community no matter who was in office. That’s why, in my senior year of high school, I helped to found the El Rio Reproductive Health Access Project. The El Rio RHAP was founded by young people, like me, who truly represent who we aimed to serve: homeless youth, formerly incarcerated young people, teen moms, and those who have endured a variety of other lived experiences. We have acted as peer sex educators and run free teen clinics, where teens in our community can come and consult with us and walk away with any birth control method that is right for them, at absolutely no cost. The program is still going strong and has expanded since I moved to New York. It now serves over 4,000 young people.
After moving to NYC I translated my experience as a community organizer to the digital space and founded GenZ Girl Gang, which aims to redefine the way we practice sisterhood in the age of infinite connection, while also serving as a bold experiment, pushing the limits of social media platforms like Instagram to build authentic connections and community.
Courtesy of Teen Vogue
Soon you will be off to Columbia for your second year of school! What are you studying? What are your goals for this upcoming semester as a student?
I’m the first in my family to attend college, and on a full ride to Columbia University, at that. I study Political Science and have made the Dean’s List both semesters I’ve been in attendance. This next semester I plan to keep my grades up and continue to make the Dean’s List as well as explore classes in our Race and Ethnicities Studies Department.
Are there any projects that you’re looking forward to in the new school year when it comes to your causes? What are you most involved in?
As I return to school, I look forward to serving as Community Coordinator to the upLIFT House, Columbia’s very first Special Interest Community for First-Generation and Low-Income Students. My friends and I organized toward its creation last year and to continue to lead it as it comes to life is something I am really looking forward to. As for GenZ Girl Gang, we got our start in April of 2019, and we still have so much growing to do. This year, our team is focusing on expanding our reach and exploring options for a chapter network.
How do you balance school and your personal life, all while being an activist, organizer, and overall influencer?
All of the aspects of my life: personal, professional, and academic intertwine, so it’s hard to separate where my work on one project stops and the work on another starts. That being said, my biggest learning of my first year alone in NYC was that my relationship with myself is the foundation on which all the other aspects of my life are built, and that investing in myself isn’t selfish, it’s a part of doing the work responsibly. I’ve learned to build self-care into my day by journaling when I wake up and before I go to sleep. I also practice practical self-care by diligently tracking my schedule in my planner and being honest with myself and others about when I’m just too busy.
Courtesy of Deja Foxx via Instagram
All colleges and universities have a style set to them. How would you describe the Columbia University style? How does it compare to your own?
When I first got to Columbia, I was stunned. This was my first time seeing wealth at this scale. Attendance at Columbia costs nearly $80,000 a year (reminder: I’m on a full-ride) and only one in two students are receiving financial aid. That being said, the style at Columbia can feel very designer and hard to keep up with as a first-generation and low-income student. But, I’ve come to embrace where our styles and access differ. I still wear acrylic nails, big hoops, and jeans from the thrift store just like I did back home and in some ways bringing that style into my classrooms is kind of like bringing my community with me.
How much of a handbag lover are you? Do you keep up with the trends, or just invest in a few classics that are best for your lifestyle?
I love a handbag as a statement piece, but I don’t personally keep up with trends.
What bag trends do you most look forward to in the Fall season? What bags on Rebag.com do you enjoy the most?
Fall colors on the backdrop of NYC have such a special feeling! On Rebag, I love the vintage bag selection. There’s something cool about having something that’s really different.
What’s your go-to school bag, and what are the essentials that you always carry with you?
Going to school in NYC means you’re always on the go. Often, I go from a class to a work meeting, to an event, and need a bag that’s big enough (and stylish enough) to fit all occasions. In it, you’ll always find my phone with a portable charger, my laptop to do work on the go, a water bottle, snacks, and of course, my planner. Rolling around on the bottom there’s usually eyelash glue, a rollerball perfume, and a lip gloss so I can freshen up my look.
When it comes to your personal style or shopping habits, what’s your take on resale? How do you think the fashion resale industry is positively affecting both corporations and consumers?
I love resale! My friends and I are far from rich, though we occupy very wealthy spaces, and I see resale as a way of increasing accessible to the world of fashion that we are all too often excluded from. My entire career in advocacy has centered on choice and accessibility and I think similar values exist in the concept of resale.
What are your plans after graduation?
Soon after graduation, I plan to return home to Tucson, AZ and run for office. I’ve worked from the outside trying to push representatives to listen to their constituents and I know first hand the difference it makes when you have the right people in office. But more than that, I want to take up space and bring my experiences and identities, which are largely underrepresented in the United States government, to the forefront not just for me, but for all of the people who share them and have yet to see themselves in power.
As a self-proclaimed future POTUS, what inspires you to work toward this goal?
I’m no stranger to being the first. From being a first-generation American to the first of my family to go to college, even to the first to speak up when I see injustice, I’ve gotten quite a few firsts under my belt and I’ve got a lot more ahead of me. They say you can’t be what you can’t see and though I’ve never seen a POTUS like me, I’m inspired by the challenge of being the first and, if nothing else, I hope that by declaring my ambition, which may seem impossible to some, it empowers other people to dream their dreams out loud.