The Road of Roadman
Alumna works tirelessly to connect the powerful with the marginalized
by Gwendelyn Salazar (Honors ’21)
photograph by Jack Benton (’19)
Jess Roadman (MACL ’17) is a womxn* with a mission: helping those who are often left out of the conversation to be heard. As a yoga instructor, Westminster assistant professor in the MACL program, and facilitator of a community-organizing group, she is approaching this objective from many angles.
Jess was raised in California and comes from a line of powerful womxn. With a grandmother who challenges the status quo and a mother who runs a nonprofit, it makes sense that Jess is interested in unmasking power. In getting to know her, it becomes clear that everything she does, and is, reflects her goal.
“I moved to Utah to attend the Master of Arts in Community Leadership (MACL) program at Westminster, and the experience exceeded my expectations,” Jess explains. “The program is so unique: it’s really based on critical thinking and pushing the boundaries through education and social justice.”
While a student in the MACL program, Jess was involved with the Environmental Center and Alphabet Soup, Westminster’s LGBTQIA+ club. Westminster also allowed her to reconnect to yoga after her favorite studio in California closed. Jess says that she has learned a lot about life through nearly a decade of practicing yoga. “People have the truth inside of them,” she remarks. “Your joy is my joy; your suffering is my suffering.”
Jess grew up in the era of the Iraq war. While the post-9/11 rhetoric was prominent, so was her understanding of the importance of questioning. Jess shared her favorite story of her grandma, who, during the McCarthy era, removed Jess’s mother from school the day after a teacher insisted that all Russians were bad people. Applying the same notions as her grandmother, Jess dedicated her master’s thesis to discovering the impact of the Iraq war through the lens of female-identifying Iraqi people living in the United States. As she suspected, much of the narrative she had been exposed to was inaccurate, having been injected with the biases held by many Americans in the wake of 9/11. This experience reaffirmed Jess’s belief that those who are the most impacted are all too often not being considered. “My long-term question is, ‘How can these voices be used to shape US foreign policy?’” Jess says.
In the short term, Jess is working to connect Utah policy makers with those most impacted by their policies, those often silenced in political discourse. As a Westminster student, Jess began working full-time with Crossroads Urban Center—a non-partisan organization that has been doing advocacy work for over 50 years. Jess works in community outreach and volunteer management, but her favorite part of her job is working with impoverished womxn in the community to examine issues they face in trying to find success and ways in which they can initiate conversations with those who hold power. “We target the person government who can make a particular change happen. The people who live this injustice day to day have the solutions, and we need to listen to them.”
Jess explains how these womxn, and her students, inspire her to use her voice even when it isn’t easy—like correcting someone disregarding or making assumptions about her. “I don’t always correct people when they ask, ‘What does your husband do?’ But I remember the strength that it takes people whom I work with, who are more marginalized, to stand up and be a voice,” Jess says. “This space is not scary in light of that, so if they can do it, I can do it. I reply to this question by saying, ‘My wife does this.’”
Jess shares that using her voice is an everyday struggle, but she exemplifies that it is both possible and essential to not let ourselves be silenced. “I aspire to be a person—to be a space—where people feel like their voice is valued as much as anyone else’s,” she says.
Upon first hearing of her involvement in so many professions, it is easy to view them all as disconnected. In reality, her passion for helping the silenced find their voice is beautifully woven into all she does, from instructing yoga to teaching at Westminster. Jess Roadman is a womxn of balance. She will not let herself or others be ignored, yet she is also incredibly empathic. She understands her privilege while fighting the oppression she faces every day. She is very aware of the obstacles she faces; nonetheless, to be near her is to feel a sense of hope.
“The most beautiful thing is watching a group that is considered marginalized and often doesn’t get their voices heard stand up with posture and extreme articulateness to these people who have such power and say, ‘I know more than you, because I live this,’” Jess says.
*A way of spelling woman or women that is inclusive and recognizes the falsehood of the notion that womxn are simply an extension of men.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.