At Reed Yarfitz studied Spanish, became an international and comparative policy studies major, participated in student activism on campus, and volunteered for Jobs with Justice both in Portland and Seattle. She also spent two summers working for a labor union in Seattle. Over time, her work included other Portland activist groups: the Cross-Border Labor Organizing Coalition, the Portland-Central America Solidarity Committee, a white people against racism group in Northeast Portland, and a young radical Jewish group.
She also began volunteering with Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), a labor union based in Woodburn, Oregon, that provides support and basic services for migrant workers. Her summer internship with PCUN in 1999 was funded by a McGill Lawrence award, administered by Reed's SEEDS (Students for Education, Empowerment, and Direct Service) and career services offices. Yarfitz asserts that although immigrant labor historically has been responsible for the agricultural industry in the U.S., workers enter the fields with minimal legal protections, which are rarely enforced. Migrant workers lack the legal framework for collective bargaining provided for all other workers by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. This makes them, in Yarfitz's opinion, "one of the most invisible, exploited, and demonized groups in the country."
Yarfitz spent fall 1998, the first semester of her junior year, in Nicaragua. She undertook independent research on marginalized groups, producing an oral history project about gay and lesbian organizing over the past 25 years. While still in Nicaragua, she experienced the devastation of Hurricane Mitch and did relief work for its victims. Upon returning to Portland, Yarfitz continued this assistance through fundraising and educational work.
For her senior thesis, Yarfitz wrote Locas, Anarquistas y Supermadres: Argentine Mother-hood and the Boundaries of the Body Politic, which she describes as a "historical and philosophical exploration of the concept of motherhood and the contested division between public and private spheres in twentieth-century Argentina." This thesis came about as a result of what her thesis adviser, Darius Rejali, describes as "archival curiosity," an attribute of a scholar. Yarfitz had discovered an anarchist-feminist journal published in Argentina in the 1890s and was motivated to explore the social context within which it arose. Though her thesis conceptually began with her research work in Nicaragua, as an excavation of the margins of society in the midst of political turmoil, Yarfitz focused finally on the concept of motherhood in public discourse.