Courtesy of Stacy Shepanek

First-year student protests animal cruelty while teaching about sustainability

Sophia Johnson, a first-year biology student, began protesting the Ringling Circus when she was 10. She's now the president of the only animal rights organization on campus.

“There wasn’t another animal rights club around campus so I just decided to create CARE-olina Animal Advocates,” Johnson said. 

After being invited to the circus as a child, Johnson was shown footage of animal cruelty that called her to action. She immediately gathered her family to protest the Ringling Circus and began speaking at local churches and schools to bring awareness and organize her own protests.

“I think compassionate is a good adjective for myself because I care so much about other people, other animals especially, beings that cannot speak up for themselves or need help,” Johnson said. 

Through protesting the circus, Johnson connected with other animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for whom she now works as a youth representative.

“With PETA, they ask me to do eight events per semester," she said. "These events ... often have something free like free vegan samples.”

Johnson isn’t just protesting animal cruelty on campus; she is also involved with the EcoReps who teach about sustainable living in residence halls.

“She’s done a ton of work in East Quad,” said Reaghan Murphy, a third-year environmental science and global studies student Murphy  is EcoRep team leader and the chief officer of sustainability for Residence Hall Association. “The EcoReps in general put on three events every fall and four events every spring. She’s probably done more than that.”

Murphy said she was first amazed by Johnson’s passion when she was reviewing applications for new EcoReps. One of the questions on the application was “What is your favorite green thing?”

“Her answer was the address of Green Quad and nothing else,” Murphy said. “None of us realized it at first, and then one of our other lead team members started to think and put it into google and Green Quad came up. We were all like ‘this girl has to be an EcoRep!’” 

As a vegan interested in animal rights and sustainability, Johnson is always on the lookout for sharing her passions with USC students. Just one of the ways she has done this recently is through the Vegan/Vegetarian ThanksLiving Celebration.

“I began to see the importance of living sustainably when I was young, but having the opportunities at USC — it’s so exciting to me,” Johnson said. “It’s something that's so important for more students to learn about — how they can impact.” 

Because of her success with EcoReps and her obvious passion, Murphy and the rest of the RHA executive board endorsed her for the next chief officer of sustainability. The RHA senate passed this endorsement unanimously.

“Currently, I’m really interested in food waste. So, I’ve been doing some research mostly about the United States but also just in general,” Johnson said. “With that general topic, I would really like to find ways to reduce food waste on campus. I’m not sure how RHA would be involved with that — maybe publicizing something I decide to work on.” 

Murphy appreciates the way Johnson works with the other new EcoReps and believes this will help her as chief officer of sustainability.

“She’s been a really positive force in EcoReps just inspiring some of the other newbies to kind of get out there and do what they’re passionate about,” Murphy said. 

Johnson couldn’t speak enough to her love for the experiences EcoReps gave her. She says the organization has allowed her to grow as a person.

“It’s not overwhelming ... It’s fun all around and you know you’re making a difference in the world,” Johnson said. 

Johnson isn’t completely sure what she wants to do with her life after college. She is currently considering veterinary school or something in the public health field. Regardless, Johnson’s goal is “to learn more about myself, about my community, and the world. I want to gain a lot of experiences to help me grow as a person.” 

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