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The legacy of Nicole Sangsuree Barrett

As a native of Portland and a 2013 graduate of PSU’s Leadership for Sustainability Education master’s program, Nicole Sangsuree Barrett is an unforgettable member of the PSU community. Among the many roles she embraced, she was a singer, songwriter, artist, musician, puppeteer, farmer, and activist for causes that included social justice and the environment. Sangsuree was comfortable sharing her complex identity as a mixed-race, queer woman. Her courage, humor, and personal commitment to acceptance allowed her to speak frankly and honestly while challenging others to question their assumptions and reflect on their connection with all forms of life. Nicole Sangsuree Barrett left a powerful legacy upon her passing in Thailand on Thursday, July 18, 2014.

Sangsuree’s life was filled with accomplishments in service to her community. She earned her bachelor’s in theater arts and women and gender studies from the University of Oregon before completing her graduate degree at PSU. She taught an urban farming series at Portland Community College and worked at Metro for six years as a waste reduction educator. Sangsuree also studied seed saving and natural building in Thailand at Pun Pun Organic Farm. Her involvement with the Portland community included work with Colored Pencils Art & Culture Council, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, and the Northwest Earth Institute.

Sangsuree performing at the 2013 Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference at PSU.

You could also find Sangsuree performing and leading workshops at Western Oregon University, Clark College, and the University of Oregon. At PSU, she sang and played guitar at the winter 2013 Enrollment Management and Student Affairs division meeting. Sangsuree also presented with Cynthia Gomez, PSU’s director of Cultural Centers, in a session titled Mainstream Sustainability and the Environmental Justice Movement. Later that month, she performed and presented at the Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference on similar topics. Her singing closed both the student summit and the entire conference. I remember seeing students take their phones up to the stage to record the songs. Many tears and smiles could be seen as she played, because Sangsuree was able to open hearts with her music.

Sangsuree plants seeds at Petaluma Bounty Farm during PSU's 2013 Alternative Spring Break trip.

In her role as PSU’s cultural sustainability coordinator, Sangsuree worked with departments that included the Cultural Centers, International Student and Scholar Services, and the Women’s Resource Center. She took a leadership role in hosting PSU’s fourth annual Social Sustainability Month and helped connect environmental and social justice issues through a series of campus events. She also hosted the Intercultural Sustainability Art Show and Exhibit at the Multicultural Center and recruited more than a dozen students to share the environmental and social challenges (and solutions) in their home countries. She was a mentor for many students as the coordinator of the Cultural Sustainability Task Force in the Sustainability Volunteer Program. She enjoyed working one-on-one with her student interns, helping them connect social justice to their environmental projects. In the spring of 2013, Nicole participated in the transformational Alternative Spring Break food justice trip in northern California along with 12 students from across campus.

I’ll be forever grateful for her thoughtful work on our campus and the partnerships she built and strengthened. I believe she deeply touched each person she met during the time she was part of PSU’s sustainability culture. Sangsuree was an exceptional individual, as evidenced by the community that has come together in her memory.

At the time of her passing, Sangsuree was studying Buddhism, feminism, and social justice at the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Social Justice. She had traveled from Portland with another PSU alumna, Danielle Grondin. They parted ways when Danielle continued to India to complete a yoga teaching certification. Sangsuree remained in Thailand, teaching yoga and performing regularly at local venues. Just two weeks before her untimely death, Sangsuree released a powerful music video called Earth My Body.

Earth My Body
from Nicole Sangsuree Barrett on Vimeo.

In her last Facebook post, Sangsuree wrote of her inner peace and her joy upon holding an Atlas moth. The Atlas moth is the largest moth in the world, found only in Southeast Asia.

Sangsuree holds an Atlas moth in Thailand.

During July’s new moon on July 26, friends and fellow students created Krathong and paper lanterns to release into the Columbia River in memory of Sangsuree. Sangsuree had hosted similar events in past years for her friends and loved ones. Loi Krathong is an annual festival celebrated in Thailand as well as some parts of Laos and Burma.

Remembering Her Legacy

Do you have a special story, video, or photo of Sangsuree to share? Her family is collecting memories to be curated and shared in the future. Please email


Heather Spalding oversees PSU's Student Sustainability Center, a department that bridges student life and sustainability at PSU.

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