Creating Equal Access for All

By Imagining America | September 13, 2016

angela_drBy Angela Duran Real, a Ph.D. candidate in Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Washington, Seattle and a 2016–2017 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of intersectionality and public scholarship, important topics of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 6-8, 2016, in Milwaukee, WI.

I grew up and went to school in southern Spain. Although the nation’s democracy is very young, college education is considered to be a public good and as such, available to all. I have assumed that everyone who wants to go to college can regardless of their racial, ethnic, or socio-economic background. While I still strongly believe this should be true, my time in Seattle has taught me that this is not always the case. I never knew just how privileged I was to have been born into a middle class family in a country where higher education is a right. This year, I was part of a Mellon Foundation Fellowship that paired me with Asha Tran, a Spanish professor at South Seattle College. The idea behind this partnership is to give graduate students in the humanities the chance to become familiar with two-year colleges, the work they perform, and the publics they serve. The initiative, Reimagining the Humanities Ph.D. and Reaching New Publics, emphasizes the public dimension of the humanities. I believe in the transformational power of education, and this project has allowed me to respond to the imperative of creating equal access for all.

In my first visit to Asha’s class at SSC, despite the butterflies that accompany being in a new environment, I was keenly aware of my positionality. I knew that as a white, middle class doctoral student from the University of Washington I was in a position of privilege and power. So, I decided to sit quietly in the back of the classroom and simply listen. Over the course of 5 months of weekly visits students began to approach me. They talked to me about SSC and their educational aspirations. The mutual respect that we developed provided me an opportunity to share with them what I have learned about the realities of higher education and underscored what an education in the humanities has afforded me. We also worked together to help them transfer to the different academic environment that the four years institution is. Furthermore, as a fellow in a Certificate of Public Scholarship at UW, I have pursued volunteer work with University Beyond Bars, a non-profit that provides college education to prisoners. My commitment is with addressing the root causes of unequal access to educational opportunities and, ultimately, to diversify higher education.

As a graduate student in literary studies, I have experienced immense growth. My research project has been nurtured by an exceptional cohort of professors, and I have grown as a scholar. But I have also felt the limitations of a traditional graduate education for those who wish to do publicly engaged research and explore alternative professional practices. In response, I have sought on and off-campus opportunities that allow me to connect with faculty and graduate students who share my passion and also wish to bridge the divide between the academy and the publics it serves. And I see the opportunity of being a PAGE fellow as a continuation of this process.