Written by José R. Del Real Viramontes
In the spring of 2015, I was selected to attend the 2016 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Conference as an AAHHE Graduate Student Fellow. Prior to attending, I did not know what to expect from participating in the Conference. I am currently a doctoral student in the cultural studies in education program at the University of Texas at Austin, but I felt personal doubts about my place in the academy due to my own educational and schooling experiences as a community college transfer student. I did not know how to navigate and negotiate these feelings until I experienced AAHHE.
During AAHHE, I met other graduate student fellows who were engaged in doing great work on behalf of and with communities of color. Meeting a group of doctoral students pursuing their degrees in order to get out in the field and make a positive impact on the educational outcomes for Chicanas/os Latinas/os was motivating and inspiring. Through AAHHE, I was matched with Dr. David Pérez II as my faculty mentor. He shared his experiences as a former graduate student fellow and now as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Miami University of Ohio. In addition, I had the opportunity to share the work I am doing regarding Chicana/o Latina/o community college students in Texas and gained a lot of meaningful information and feedback from Dra. Marissa Vasquez.
After AAHHE, my peers and I created a GroupMe that we used to check in on each other, share opportunities for collaboration and support each other on how to navigate and negotiate the Ph.D. journey as Chicanas/os Latinas/os. On a personal level, keeping in touch with all the fellows provided me with a network of students who supported me with feedback on a few personal projects and while I prepared myself for taking my comprehensive qualifying exams this past summer. Having access to a network of students who were going through or had gone though what I was experiencing at the time was invaluable.
Overall, attending AAHHE as a graduate student fellow was a transformative and humanizing experience for me. It was transformative because it allowed me to meet Latina/o faculty and education leaders who work with and on behalf of Latino communities all over the country. It was humanizing because I had the opportunity to learn about the physical, mental and emotional struggles that Latina/o faculty and graduate students face within the academy. These experiences allowed me to validate my own experiences as a doctoral student and most importantly, they allowed me to see myself as a faculty member in the near future. Additionally, experiencing AAHHE as a fellow reinforced my commitment to continue supporting Chicanas/os Latinas/os at all levels of their education trajectory. Finally, I would encourage all Latina/o doctoral students to give themselves the opportunity to experience the AAHHE Graduate Student Fellow program by applying to become a fellow. •
José R. Del Real Viramontes is a doctoral student of cultural studies in education at the University of Texas at Austin