Joanna Perez, Assistant Professor of Sociology California State University, Dominguez Hills
Growing up in the predominantly low-income Latino immigrant neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, I became aware of the limited opportunities (social, political, economic, etc.) that were available to the members of my community. Thus, I am immensely grateful for the various opportunities that have provided me with the necessary tools to work toward changing the social conditions of marginalized communities. For instance, during March of 2016, I attended my first American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) conference as a graduate fellow. While at this conference, I met and learned from other Latino graduate fellows, professors and professionals from across the nation. By the end of the conference, I felt as though I had joined a community of scholars and administrators who were invested in addressing the needs of Latinos in the U.S and beyond.
As I was the only first-generation Latina doctoral student in my graduate program, it was crucial to have the necessary support to finish my degree. While pursuing my Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I benefited from the mentorship of several professors. For instance, my advisor, Dr. Jorge Chapa, encouraged me to apply to academic opportunities geared toward helping minority students thrive in graduate school and beyond, including the AAHHE Graduate Student Fellowship Program (GSFP). As a former AAHHE graduate student and faculty fellow, Dr. Chapa particularly wanted me to become part of the AAHHE family because he believed in the mission of the organization and knew that my life would be forever changed if I were granted the opportunity to join the AAHHE family. Given the competitive nature of the AAHHE GSFP, I was honored and humbled when I was notified that I had been selected as participant of the 2015-2016 cohort. In particular, my acceptance was immensely meaningful because it occurred during the time when I was deeply heartbroken by the unforeseen passing of Dr. Chapa.
While at the conference, I was able to grow as a scholar, mentee, mentor and community advocate. More specifically, after each session I attended with the graduate and faculty fellows, I felt validated, empowered and inspired to keep pushing through my graduate studies and to keep working toward making my dream of becoming a tenured professor a reality. During these sessions, we not only discussed and provided critical feedback on our research, but we also had deep and critical conversations about our process and role in increasing the education pipeline of Latino students. Furthermore, given that prior to coming to the conference I had recently accepted a tenure-track faculty position, I was vastly grateful for the opportunity to learn about the experiences and coping strategies of faculty fellows. Currently, as an assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, it is the friendship and consejos of my cohort and faculty fellows that keep me grounded. Also, having served as the 2016 alumni coordinator co-chair, I worked to make sure that we all continued to fight for social justice and to equip the upcoming generation of Latino students with the knowledge and tools to be agents of social change. Indeed, I will forever be grateful for the experience and the familia I gained as an AAHHE graduate fellow. •