On Sunday, April 19, Poder Latino/a (PL) and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A), in collaboration with the Latin American & Latino/a Studies Department and the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development, hosted an alumnae/i panel entitled “Paths Beyond Vassar: Latinos/as in Higher Education,” which featured Vassar graduates who have gone on to pursue advanced degrees.
According to PL and M.E.Ch.A member and the Latin American & Latino/a Studies academic intern Guillermo Valdez ’15, the event was organized so that members of Vassar’s current Latino/a community could talk with and learn from past Latino/a students. “We did this to try to create more networks between the Latinos who have left Vassar and the Latinos who are still here, and to hopefully be inspired by them,” he said.
The panel featured Alexis Rivera ’07, a Ph.D student in epidemiology and research assistant at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health with a focus in drug abuse and HIV prevention; Joel Arce ’08, who has taught in the Bronx, worked for the Posse Foundation and will soon study social justice and education in a doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Angélica Gutierrez ’13, who, after working briefly as a paralegal for an immigration law firm working on removal cases for undocumented kids in Los Angeles, returned to Vassar as a coordinator of the Transitions program and as a house advisor, and will soon study student affairs at the University of Los Angeles.
At the heart of the various topics discussed by the panelists was the necessity of self-reliance and self-motivation to postgraduate success. Rivera explained. “If you want a job, you ask, because if they don’t have something or someone you’re the first person they think of when something comes up.”
Arce echoed the sentiment, pointing to networking as a growingly important element as students begin to seek out postgraduate employment and educational opportunities. “It wasn’t until after Vassar that I learned the value of networking,” he remarked. “It’s a matter of ‘I remember you. You did good work and you know good people. Come on aboard.’ You’re here. You have access to institutional power. Use it.”
The panelists also sought to reassure current students that the choice to pursue valuable work experiences was well worth the taxing financial burden it poses to many. Victor Monterrosa ’07, who was in the audience, remarked, “Right now the entire world is trying to get into ‘A School.’ You need to be competitive, but don’t think that you need to go right into it. I wanted to be a lawyer at 23, but it took six more years than that, but it’s worth it.”
To many Latino/a students at Vassar who are confronted with these sorts of decisions, the event proved meaningful. “We wanted to see faces that we can identify with and, for some of us, [to] look up to,” commented M.E.Ch.A member Sergio Perez ’18, in an emailed statement.