Meet Miguel, a member of AO Class of 2022 attending the University of Denver.
AO: This past year has been tough for a multitude of reasons, however there were definitely times worth celebrating, especially because they occurred despite the hardship. What was a standout accomplishment, a time where you felt like you climbed a mountain?
Miguel: This past academic year was definitely not the easiest, especially given that there was also a global pandemic. Covid-19 brought about a plethora of different challenges that presented themselves in many ways. As a resident assistant and active member of a few organizations, I was tasked with trying to engage students in a virtual environment which was becoming increasingly harder as students began to feel Zoom fatigue and other related issues.
Despite the looming uncertainty, my peers and I were still able to successfully bring our high school mentees onto campus for a day of learning and exploring; while still following Covid guidelines. Usually, this is an in person annual conference known as ROYAL (Retention of Youth And Latinos) but Covid had made it significantly harder to be able to do so in person. Fortunately, Covid restrictions began clearing closer to the event and our chapter was able to form a partnership with the Early College of Arvada.
We were able to bring around 40 Latino students to the campus in which they engaged in various workshops focusing on leadership, college preparation, and student experiences. We also will be hosting class workshops at the school throughout the summer and the 2021-2022 school year. Although the event isn't the same way it was during pre-Covid, we were still able to form a great partnership and plan on bringing the originality of the event once both the University of Denver and the Colorado public education system allows us to do so.
AO: Where there are mountains, there are also valleys. When you were in the valleys, the lows, of the past year, what were your sources of rejuvenation, so that you could keep climbing?
Miguel: When I was in the valleys, the lows of the past year, I would rejuvenate myself with friends, family, and nature! Given that Covid had everybody cooped up for a while, I had so much more time to spend with my family. I had been away for nearly a year and being back at my mom's house made me realize just how much I have grown. I never really had any issues living at home, but after leaving to be on campus, I grew so much. I had come to the conclusion that I could not grow as a person in the environment that created who I was at that time. Being back brought me back to reality and I took note of how far I had come within the past year, alongside my family as well. I hold them very near and dear to my heart and they are what fuels me to get up every day, even on the toughest of days.
My friends did much of the same for me, but it made us value one another even more. Social interaction is a critical component to a post-secondary education. So learning how to navigate through that enabled me to get creative with how to communicate and show appreciation without being physically present. Lastly, I have been spending a majority of my free time outside lately. Being outside brings me peace and lets me relax freely.
AO: All in all, what have you learned in this journey of the past year? What will you take with you for your next journey?
Miguel: Over the course of the past year or so, I have realized just how serious and rooted a lot of our systemic issues within our society are. It is hard to truly comprehend just how some people think/live, but it became increasingly apparent as our world was undergoing a global pandemic.
The pandemic did much more than just prevent us from interacting. It brought a pushback against a lot of issues that have been around but were never really addressed. Most notably, the BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement and unequal access to healthcare. The BLM movement was calling for action to stop the blatant unequal treatment from officers, employers, and racist bigots. Of course they were met with controversy, but the surprising aspect came when Trump chimed in which only riled up both sides. All in all, I was able to learn that some people truly are rooted within their beliefs and sometimes that is just how it is.
Moreover, the unequal access to healthcare for low income and people of color was surprising to me. Fortunately for me I was able to get vaccinated and a weekly test through my University. I wish I could say the same for my friends and family, but they were stuck with navigating their own health through a system that was nowhere near ready for a global endemic such as Covid-19. Moving forward, I hope that we as a nation can learn from this experience and ensure that we plan and allocate resources accordingly.
AO: Did a book you read over this year stick with you?
Miguel: Daisy Reyes is able to give insight on some experiences in her book, "Learning to Be Latino: How Colleges Shape Identity Politics." Reyes is able to gain insight into a wide range of students and was able to do some ethnographic work in order to fully understand students' experiences. Reyes conducted her research at three different institutions and catered her work towards the Latino/a population by sitting in on different extracurriculars such as Latinos United For Action and Latino Fellowship.
Furthermore, she conducted her research at three very different institutions varying from the public to private as well as class size. The regional public university is a Hispanic-serving institution with close to half the student body being of Latino origins being primarily Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan. However, these students rejected pan-ethnic labels, such as "Latino" and "Hispanic." They instead preferred national origin terms like "Mexican" and "Salvadoran" and didn't see the need to use pan-ethnic labels. Latinos are not underrepresented at this institution and do not experience racial microaggressions on campus, hence there is less need to identify panethnically in this type of setting.
In contrast, the research university studied gave one of the Latino student groups more resources (mainly an office space in the multicultural center), which fostered some competition between this group and the other Latino student organizations. At this campus, students drew boundaries around Latino identities, at times questioning each other's ethnic authenticity. When students claimed to be Latino on this campus, they felt compelled to explain and defend what that meant.
Lastly, I think the book written by Reyes was able to effectively shed light on the Latinx experience within a college environment. I especially liked how she was able to highlight how each campus was different and how that would affect the student population. The book was able to highlight some really pertinent ideas within identity and so much more. I was often able to relate the content back to coursework and in many instances my very own experiences at a PWI [Predominantly White Institution]. I enjoyed how Reyes shows more than just how college campuses shape students' academic and occupational trajectories; but also how college molds students' ideas about inequality and opportunity in America, their identities, and even how they intend to practice politics. It was evident that students wanted to create an environment that is better for them and other students, but this is often much harder than simply joining a club or becoming more active on campus. She was able to capture the thought process of students and how their current and past history ties into even some of the most minuscule decisions.