The Latino/a Knowledge Community strives to support the research and share the stories of colleagues who are completing scholastic work, especially focusing on Latinx/a/o educational issues. If you want to have your research or story shared, please contact Sarah Rodriguez ([email protected]) or Marissa Vasquez Urias ([email protected]).
Name: Melissa Abeyta
Title: Doctoral Student/CCEAL Research Associate
Institution: San Diego State University
What initially interested you in studying Latinos in higher education?
My interest in studying Latinos in higher education was first sparked when I learned about the Chicana/o educational pipeline (Yosso & Solórzano, 2006). In reflecting on my own experiences, I recognized the systemic inequity that existed for individuals like myself. As early as high school, I noticed that counselors spent more time reviewing class schedules with ‘college bound’ students. I recall my high school counselor informing me about community college and if I completed all the course requirements, there was a possibility of transferring to a four-year college. Thus, I always had to ask questions and uncover my own college pathway.
After high school I momentarily moved to Texas and enrolled in community college. I quickly learned about out-of-state tuition and the economic impact it had on students. Further, since I had not graduated from a Texas high school and taken the high school exit exam, I was tracked into remedial reading and math courses. I remember thinking, why is there not an opportunity to test-out and demonstrate that I can comprehend these basic skills? Upon moving back to California, I learned that none of my remedial courses were transferable to a four-year university. Thankfully, I met an amazing counselor at my community college who finally placed me on a path to transfer to San Diego State University.
As I considered my educational journey, I couldn’t help but wonder, why are institutions so difficult to navigate? Despite the challenges along the way, I eventually made it through the pipeline and to a four-year institution. However, the reality is that not everyone does. I’m hoping that my research on the experiences of Latinos in higher education can be used to inform policy and practices that support college-going pathways for marginalized communities.
How has your research evolved over time? What is a finding you did not expect?
Through several indirect experiences I have observed how many lives are affected by the school-to-prison pipeline in our communities. The focus of my dissertation is on Formerly Incarcerated Latino Males Pursing Postsecondary Education. An early finding I did not expect is how mass incarceration has directly/indirectly impacted students, staff, and faculty. Through my research, I am examining educational programming for this population and how these students can gain economic and social mobility through education despite their past. I’ve been most drawn to Yosso’s (2005) Community Cultural Wealth framework as a lens for which student affairs professionals may consider when working with Latinx students in general, but particularly those who have been involved with the justice system. As an aspiring faculty member, I recognize that my research agenda will evolve. Broadly, I plan to explore the role of institutional agents on the navigational pathways of students of color.
What motivates you to continue writing and pursuing this line of work?
The impact this has on the Latino community is what motivates me to pursue this work. I am especially passionate about dispelling stereotypes and unconscious bias towards system impacted students. I strongly believe that through education, our systems can benefit from the social and economic mobility of this population. Further, and perhaps more importantly, I believe that communities and families of formerly incarcerated students can also be transformed. I am hopeful that my research will provide critical insights into the experiences of formerly incarcerated Latino males that can lead to actionable items that support their transition to higher education.
How can your research influence the work of student affairs professionals?
My academic and professional experiences have illustrated the impact that research can positively have on policy and administrative decision-making. While scholars have sought to understand the multiple intersecting identities of Latinx students in higher education, one particular identity is often overlooked. Understanding the experiences of system-impacted Latinx students is particularly salient for both scholars and practitioners. I am especially interested in research about this population that can help practitioners, policy makers, scholars, and our communities better understand the transitional and acculturation experience of this group. As student affairs professionals, this means findings ways to ensure that they receive appropriate support services and academic assistance to complete their academic goals. Doing so may greatly increase their opportunities to successfully fulfill their career aspirations, obtain degrees, and ultimately decrease the economic disadvantages our communities are faced with.
Do you have final words of advice?
I came across a Toni Morrison quote recently that I have been reflecting on. She said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that you are free. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” This quote is not only a reminder for our students, but also for us as scholars and practitioners to continue to empower and uplift each other.
Yosso*, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), 69-91.
Yosso, T. J., & Solórzano, D. G. (2006). Leaks in the Chicana and Chicano Educational Pipeline. Latino Policy & Issues Brief. Number 13. UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (NJ1).