Navigating an Activist-Scholar Identity in Higher Education

By Imagining America | September 15, 2016

diane-romoBy Diane Romo, a Doctoral student in Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University 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.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Mexican Repatriation during the Great Depression, and the Immigration Reform and Control Act are a few of many sociopolitical events that have largely influence my family and my own trajectory. I was not taught this history in school, in fact, people that looked like me rarely appeared in the books we read. The spaces in which this history was taught was in the living room during large holiday gatherings with family. For these reasons, and many more, I did not see myself in school. It was not until I became involved in a community youth center, the Pico Youth and Family Center, that I was exposed to strong people of color, that looked like me, and worked in and/or lived in my neighborhood. Having this space motivated me to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Chicana and Chicano Studies and an Education minor. It was within this academic and community space that my interest in social justice education and activist-scholar identity emerged. I have practiced this activist-scholar identity by conducting research on the unequal educational resources in my neighborhood, facilitated culturally relevant workshops that recognized the experiences, knowledge, and values from the community, and organized around issues of access to affordable housing and overdevelopment in my neighborhood.

My transition from the Pico Neighborhood (California) to Syracuse, New York, continues to be a process, even after a year. I find myself attempting to balance/navigate my role as a graduate student that works for the university and as a co-instructor at a local alternative high school in the Syracuse City School District. As someone that was pushed to an alternative educational space to earn a high school diploma and is now in a private university that is concerned with separating itself from the surrounding community, my relationship with this institution is a complicated one. I recognize the opportunities and resources that education has afforded me, but also recognize that this institution also plays a role in producing and maintaining inequities for communities of color.

Hence, Intergroup Dialogue has become a tool to pursue my passion for social justice education while also focusing on social and structural inequalities. It pushes me to recognize and negotiate my own privilege and intersectional position as a person with light skin, able-body, and U.S citizen with a degree. Recognizing the identities in which I hold privilege, encourage me to re-think the WAYS that I teach and WHAT I teach. As well as the importance of bridging/working with students to include the community cultural wealth that they bring to the classroom. As someone that works toward an activist-scholar identity, it is critical that I do not do this work alone. We cannot do this work alone.