DEI: Community In Action
Statistically, I should not be on the brink of completing my PhD. I grew up in the Texas foster care system living primarily with the same foster family until I turned 18. I also grew up on the Southside of San Antonio, where signs are more often in Spanish than English and whose residents, like my foster family and myself, are majority Mexican American and Mexican folks living below the poverty line. The college readiness level for Southside high schoolers is about 35%, but it was closer to 20% when I graduated, and this number is much lower for foster care alumni, especially for those like myself who had no familial or state support after turning 18 (about 3%). The number becomes almost negligible for queer foster care alumni of color, but still—here I am thanks to a community of mentors who recognized my unique needs and helped me to become a statistical anomaly. My commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) runs on an agenda of actively combatting these and other statistical impossibilities.
Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
As my story above shows, the interplay of multiple oppressive systems often threatens or precludes community empowerment and student success, and thus I specifically underpin my commitment to DEI with the operative parameters of de- and anticolonial practice. Such work takes the form of recognizing the marginalizing forces that lead to inequities and then challenging and interrupting them, moves toward social justice that drive my work as a scholar-leader in my community organizing, mentorship, and teaching. Below, I articulate my DEI commitments to each of these areas with examples that showcase my ongoing effort to foster other statistical anomalies within higher education.
Community Engagement and Organizing
DEI manifests in my community organizing work through culturally relevant and sustaining programming and deliverables. As the former treasurer and now president of the Michigan Indígena/Chicanx Community Alliance (MICCA), I have fundraised and planned two consecutive Día de Muertos celebrations for the local Mexican/Latinx community. I also helped create programming for non-Latinx students in local elementary and middle schools to learn more about the holiday, enacting my university’s land grant mission in this work by collaborating with Casa de Rosado, a Lansing-based Latinx art gallery and community space. With MICCA, I also have worked with the Salus Center, Lansing’s first and only queer community resource center, to fundraise and plan programming for an annual Queerceañera, a coming-of-age celebration for queer Black and Latinx youth in the area. Each event was well attended and received, garnering press coverage from both university and local media.
As a cofounder and organizer with Queering Medicine, a Lansing-based grassroots coalition comprising medical and graduate students, community leaders, and providers, I have also worked to improve queer health in the area. This work takes the form of meeting with members of the queer and trans communities and leveraging university resources (i.e., my training through MSU’s certification in community engagement and university and extramural funding sources) to prioritize community needs. I have helped conduct LGBTQIA-affirming training for medical students and providers, partnered with the Ingham County Health Department to run a series of focus groups, and have created a database of queer- and trans-friendly providers in the area. Overall, I foreground structural, sustainable change in my community engagement and organizing to improve the quality of life for those who need it most.
I know my story as a first-generation, queer, Chicano, foster care alumnus echoes with many students, and I situate my mentorship within those resonances. Much like my work with and in community, I enact DEI through access-oriented and culturally sustaining practices that lead to structural change that benefits students most marginalized by various inequities. For example, with MICCA, I helped fundraise and create multiple workshops for undergraduate Latinx students pursuing graduate degrees and careers, using my writing center training to help them plan and write application materials to graduate and medical school. Working with Dr. Estrella Torrez in the Shared Experiences with Medicine, Arts, and Humanities program, I also have helped Latinx high school students who are interested in STEM careers apply to college.
In the MSU Writing Center’s Writing Engagement Liaison program, I have offered my skills as writing consultant to Fostering Academics, Mentoring Excellence (FAME), MSU’s resource center for foster youth alumni. In this role, I have worked with FAME students to succeed in their writing assignments and apply to graduate and medical school, mentoring multiple students to plan their courses and career trajectories. I also have spoken about my experiences in the foster care system and how I navigated higher education as a foster care alumnus, offering my story to FAME students so they know that they won’t just end up as another statistic.
Finally, in the courses that I have taught thus far, I have mentored and assisted multiple queer and/or students of color to apply to graduate and professional schools, writing several letters of recommendation and helping these students plan for successful careers. Frankly put, I know I am on the right path as an educator when every queer student and student of color has maintained regular communication with me for advice and support, and I hope to continue this work in the future.
With my teaching, I enact my commitment to DEI by foregrounding key concepts of linguistic justice to help students understand that writing is a process with expectations often shaped by ableism and racism. In this manner, I help students to pivot away from the notion that good writing equals good grammar and syntax and toward genre and audience awareness and rhetorical savvy. In course readings, I spotlight perspectives from Black, Indigenous, and Latinx writers and rhetors (many of whom are also queer or disabled) so that students with such identities—and those who do not share identive similarities—can see successful writing done beyond Western, ableist, cisheteropatriarchal standards.
As a non-traditional student, I attend to student success along my own experiences in higher education, and I draw from my positionalities to meet students where they are in their lives. Through a considerate pedagogical practice, I have worked with students to reconfigure assignments to meet their needs, which has taken the form of learning narratives being written for scholarship applications to offset unmet financial need and remix projects being reconfigured to be the launch of a podcast. Generosity innervates my teaching, and I offer students flexible and negotiated deadlines and workloads depending on their needs. In this way, my commitment to DEI in teaching manifests in how I help students to become advocates for themselves in my class and beyond.
To conclude, I state frankly here that I am committed to the nitty gritty, infrastructural work of being a faculty member (i.e., serving on committees, supporting the department and college, and mentoring and teaching students) because I see it as part of the work we as academics must do for sustainable and structural change. With my commitment to DEI, I also am attuned to how we might ethically engage with multiple communities in academic and extramural contexts to do this work, and I look forward to entering new spaces and building more relationships. As the above examples show, I practice my commitment to DEI through my community organizing, mentorship, and teaching, and I look forward to continuing and doing similar work in the future.