What They Learned: Johnluca Fenton ’21

The political science and environmental studies double major combined his interests in his thesis research on the Sunrise Movement.

The Sunrise Movement is a youth campaign organizing against climate change. They have chapters across the country, including “hubs” at Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore. Sunrise’s use of mass mobilization was particularly interesting to Johnluca Fenton, a political science and environmental studies double major who had learned about the potential of people-powered movements in the course “Social Movement Theory” with Associate Professor Steve McGovern.

“Throughout the course, I was captivated by the way scholars have attempted to understand and situate the political potency of people-powered mass movements,” said Fenton. “I decided to carry out my social movement analysis via a case study of the Sunrise Movement because of its environmental focus and youth-dominated makeup. As an environmentally concerned younger person, their efforts resonated with my own line of thinking making my research experience incredibly engaging and personal at times.”

Fenton’s research found that Sunrise uses a unique combination of radical and moderate messaging and tactics. This fusion challenges current academic research about social movements and provides a framework for other social movement leaders.

“My case study of Sunrise’s novel and largely effective strategic approach to messaging and tactics can offer a blueprint to more pragmatic activism especially in the political arena,” he said. 

What did you learn from working on your thesis?

First and foremost, I’d say I learned that working on anything for nine months straight can be incredibly taxing, but also worthwhile. In terms of my research, I learned a great deal about the structure, tactics, and messaging undertaken by social movements in their efforts to shift public policy. As cliche as it may sound, I’d also say that I learned a good bit about myself throughout the thesis process. My thesis felt like the culmination of all the efforts I have put in and all the skills I have developed over my past four years at Haverford. In my final work, I felt a sense of pride in my ability to hone these skills and previously accumulated knowledge into a larger and more complex final project.

What are your plans for the future?

After graduation, I’ll be heading to graduate school at Columbia University pursuing an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy at their School of International and Public Affairs. After Columbia, I plan on entering the environmental policy sector working to enact legislation to stem emissions, pollution, and climate change in the U.S. and global context. I believe my thesis research offered a great introduction to the world of environmental policy, its power brokers, and the role of outside influences and pressures in enacting change, all of which will serve me well as I approach a career in the field.