October 4, 2021
La Lucha Sigue:
UCI School of Social Sciences Commemorates National Hispanic Heritage Month

 
I am here because la lucha sigue.

At a recent training retreat for the School of Social Sciences’ First-Generation First Quarter Challenge, I asked the program’s newly recruited student leaders—all of whom are high achieving first-generation undergraduate students—to reflect on their choice to take time away from their own studies to serve as mentors to incoming first-gen students this fall. I directed them to craft a single-sentence answer to the question, “why are you here?”

One of the new Latina FGFQ leaders wrote the following response to my question: I am here because la lucha sigue. Because the struggle continues. In the discussion that followed, she movingly linked her ongoing struggle to achieve her educational goals with the U.S. Latinx community’s historical struggles for freedom and equality—and to the myriad challenges incoming first-generation students in the School of Social Sciences will struggle to overcome as they adjust to a new and unfamiliar university environment.

This undergraduate leader is part of our school’s continuously growing body of Latinx students, staff and faculty. She belongs to an extraordinarily diverse pan-ethnic community that traces its origins or ancestry to and/or through the territories now commonly referred to as “Latin” America. Like many of us who identify as Hispanic or Latina/o/x, her life story has been shaped by past and present experiences of displacement, racialized exclusion and inequality. But it also embodies a shared Latinx history of courage, resilience, and achievement in the face of great odds. Her determination to educate herself while also advocating for others beautifully reflects Latinx cultural traditions that celebrate life and human dignity; that teach us to work hard, cherish our families and remember our antepasados; and that remind us of our debt of care to one another.

These rich legacies inform Latinx faculty, staff and students’ essential contributions to the School of Social Sciences. As you will see in the stories featured in our Hispanic Heritage Month special report, our Latinx faculty are internationally recognized experts in the fields of migration and labor studies, politics, identity and representation, and the social determinants of health and wellness. They play a central role in training the Latinx and underrepresented minority (URM) graduate students who will go on to diversify our nation’s universities. They establish innovative new partnerships with Latinx community organizations, and lead efforts to foster a new generation of culturally responsive medical practitioners to support U.S. latinx bienestar. Our Department of Chicano Latino Studies (of which I am a proud member), is one of the top two such programs in the nation. And our Latinx staff and students, who have founded and continue to lead school, campus and UC-systemwide initiatives to promote the success of first-generation, low income, URM and undocumented students, play an equally irreplaceable role in the school’s research, teaching and inclusive excellence missions.

National Hispanic Heritage Month/El Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana provides a fitting moment for us to recognize these Latinx contributions to our school, university and nation. But it also offers an opportunity for us to move beyond easy expressions of appreciation and into the more difficult work of critically evaluating our school’s contributions to Latinx success and wellbeing. We can be proud that Latinx students comprise nearly one-quarter of our undergraduate body, as well as of the school’s many resources and student organizations, including the SSARC, SAEP, FGFQ, Dean’s Ambassador’s Council, Latinx Student Psychological Association, the Chicano Latino Studies Graduate Emphasis, UC-Cuba Academic Initiative, and School of Social Sciences Graduate Cascading Mentorship program, that support and empower Latinx undergraduate and graduate students. However, we can and must do more—including increasing the enrollment and retention of Latinx graduate students—to ensure that our school does its part to help UCI become a truly Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Similarly, in recent years, we’ve made significant strides in diversifying our school’s faculty, but we need to work harder to recruit and retain more talented and committed Latinx scholars and educators, so that their numbers are more reflective of the demographics of our student population. This will include finding ways of recognizing and equitably rewarding (not to mention more fairly distributing) the invisible labor that our school’s Latinx and other underrepresented faculty and staff provide in support of the university’s stated (but not always fully supported) values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

These are ambitious goals, and our efforts to achieve them will inevitably fall short. But together with dean Maurer and the rest of the social sciences leadership team, I promise to keep trying. In commemoration of National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month 2021, I publicly recommit us to the ongoing work of making our school a place where social justice is both taught and practiced. We are here to ensure that everyone who studies or works in social sciences enjoys an equal opportunity to succeed and be happy. We are here to ensure that Latinx faculty, staff and students can truly thrive. We are here, because la lucha sigue.

Anita Casavantes Bradford
Associate Dean, Social Sciences Faculty Development and Diversity | Associate Professor, Chicano/Latino Studies & History

 

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