If Natalie Pate ’15 has learned one thing in the past four years, it’s that activism is hard.
“It’s easier to have an opinion about something and not do anything about it,” she says. “But that’s not how I want to live my life.”
Instead, Pate is making her voice heard.
She serves as a class senator for the Associated Students of Willamette University (AWSU). She established a chapter of Amnesty International on campus, and she’s spoken out against torture and the death penalty in Washington, D.C.
Pate aspires to earn her master’s and work as a politics and human rights journalist. She's getting her start this summer by interning as a reporter with the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem.
“This is a way for me to listen and ask questions, to figure out how I can help,” says Pate, who’s majoring in politics and French and Francophone studies. “I want to build my skills in journalism and gain credibility as a writer.”
From Performing to Politics
Though she’s clear about her future goals, they’re quite a departure from her original career aspirations. A Colorado native, Pate started dancing at age 3. She began taking voice lessons as a sixth-grader, and she acted throughout her teens. In her mind, she was on the Broadway track.
That changed in high school, when she witnessed several acts of injustice.
Her male friends were labeled “gay” if they acted feminine. People dismissed her for questioning the suitability of Playboy’s new line of children’s clothing. And when she covered the 2008 presidential campaign for her school newspaper, she was struck by how little her peers knew about the candidates.
“No one was paying attention to any of it, and that was so frustrating to me,” she says. “That’s when I knew I wanted to help people rather than entertain people.”
At Willamette, Pate seized her chance to make a difference.
She wrote for The Collegian newspaper, took leadership roles in student government and wrote a novella denouncing solitary confinement — which she discussed during a reading on campus this spring.
She also served as both a student coordinator and a membership and mobilization intern for Amnesty International.
Through the first position, she established an Amnesty chapter at Willamette and provided leadership to several other student groups in the Northwest. For the second, she spent a summer leading rallies and talking with the media about torture and other human rights issues in Washington, D.C.
“I’m a hopeful and optimistic person,” Pate says about her work. “I don’t think all of the world’s problems will end tomorrow, but I have no doubt that everyone can have an influence on them.”
Pate’s efforts have attracted a fan base. Choral Director Wallace Long says he’s moved by Pate’s boundless enthusiasm and positive attitude, while French and Francophone Studies professor Amadou Fofana says Pate is one of the most thoughtful and courteous people he knows.
“Natalie has matters of social justice at heart,” Fofana says. “I anticipate she will have a brilliant and fulfilling career where she will stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.”
In awe of all she’s accomplished, politics professor Jonneke Koomen says Pate has balanced a demanding academic schedule with an unwavering commitment to Amnesty International.
“She has no sense of the impossible, and has proven herself to be a very dynamic leader,” Koomen says.
Besides showcasing her leadership in the classroom and among her peers, Pate shares it on stage. She sings in the Chamber Choir, performs in musicals and choreographs dance routines with the student-run Willamette Dance Company.
Performing, she says, offers yet another outlet to share her beliefs.
“People can connect with dance and performance on a very emotional level, and for me, it’s a chance to work through my feelings,” she says. “If I’m upset about something, I will literally dance it out.”
Going forward, Pate says singing and dancing will remain a big part of her life. But activism remains her true calling.
“It would be great if one day there were no more human rights violations and I wasn’t needed anymore,” she says. “That’s when I become a singer. But for now, I have no other desire but to work on these problems.”