Raza Studies empowers youths
Arizona Daily Star
June 12, 2008

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Guest Opinion

By Selina Rodriguez

Special to the Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/243331

As the daughter of two teachers, the value of higher education was instilled in me at an early age. However, receiving a fair and equitable education is a continuing challenge for my family and I.

Beginning in elementary school, I attended Tucson Unified School District schools. All of the schools were located in what are considered "high stress" areas of town. These schools were overcrowded, underfunded, had a high turnover rate of faculty and administrators, and were plagued with deteriorated infrastructure.

All of these factors and the iniquitous low expectations contributed to a less-than-favorable educational experience for me and many of my classmates.

For many of my classmates and friends, these factors became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the majority did not graduate from high school or attend college. My experience of having continued the pursuit of a higher education is the exception rather than the norm.

During my junior year at Cholla High School, I took a class that continues to impact my life. This elective course, which many of the faculty looked down upon, was titled "Hispanic Studies."

Some of the school staff even tried to talk me out of taking the course, but I did not let their opinions deter me from deciding what was best for me.

Today, that class has expanded and grown to become part of TUSD's Mexican American/Raza Studies Department. I feel blessed and fortunate to be a graduate of this program.

Although I had always been considered a model student being on the honor roll every year and never missing a day of school it was not until I took Augustine Romero's class that I truly found my identity.

TUSD's Raza Studies is not a divisive program. Raza Studies provided me with a sense of community, empowerment and sense of direction. This class taught me skills that are not taught in textbooks.

Instead, my Raza Studies mentors taught me to think outside the box. This program has not brainwashed me, but has helped mold me into a critical and conscious person. I have also learned to have compassion and respect for my community.

I have witnessed many social inequalities and barriers, such as unequal access to housing and education and environmental hazards in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

Raza Studies helped open my eyes to these barriers. It also helped me develop confidence and encouraged me to pursue a master's degree in urban planning from UCLA.

As I look forward to this new chapter in my life, I am positive that I would not be where I am if it were not for my high-school Chicano Studies course or for TUSD's Mexican American/Raza Studies staff and community supporters of the program.

I encourage all those making assumptions about the department to make arrangements to visit a Raza Studies classroom, read the academic journal articles written about the department, or talk to parents and students who have experienced the department. Hopefully, after any or all of these experiences, critics will be able to understand why we believe it is critical to think outside the box.

Write to Selina Rodriguez at srodriguez@proneighborhoods.org.