When Shayla Monteiro was in third grade, she overheard a teacher say she should probably repeat the grade because of her low reading level.
“That motivated me,” she recalls. “People thought I was just going to fall into the cracks of the system.”
The Denver native buckled down and went from the lowest reading level to beyond her grade level. And it wasn’t the last time she transformed a seemingly dead end into new life. She says she was raised by “an ecosystem of resilient souls” while her mother was incarcerated for nine years. Monteiro struggled to negotiate her place in the world and found herself in a detention center as an adolescent. While there, she noticed that women of varying ages were struggling to read a copy of Cinderella.
“This moment became a mirror for me to see my authentic self,” Monteiro says. “It opened me up to a deeper consciousness that I am capable, and that this isn’t where I belong.”
After her freshman year at George Washington High School, she had a GPA of 0.765, She then transferred to an alternative school and took day and night classes to complete two years’ worth of high school in one year. Returning to GWHS for her junior year, she tried out for the cheerleading team just to accompany her best friend, and by her senior year, she was captain of the squad – and carrying a 3.2 GPA.
“Cheerleading allowed me to unveil my leadership potential,” she says. “It gave me the courage to confront my fears and insecurities.”
First women’s and gender studies degree
This May, Monteiro becomes the first student to graduate with the new bachelor’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies that the College of Liberal Arts launched last fall. She’ll also have a second bachelor’s in Social Work, with a minor in Ethnic Studies. During her time at CSU, she’s been a founding member of the Black Feminist Manifesto collective and has traveled to India, Ghana and Nicaragua. She was chosen to deliver her poetry at the conclusion of the Jan. 15 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and the Feb. 6 campus talk by Angela Davis. She’s also mentored at-risk youth in CSU’s Campus Connections program.
“I was able to reach them because I know where they’ve been, I know what it’s like to be judged and projected onto,” she says. “People think I should be ashamed of my life experiences, but I have gratitude for the lessons they instilled in me. I believe these experiences are our tools and our gifts.”
“Shayla’s grown tremendously and flourished into a beautiful young woman,” says Caridad Souza, director of the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research. “She’s overcome a lot, and is a wonderful human being on many different levels. I would describe her as ‘artfully resilient.’”