Colorado State University doctoral students Bri Sérráno and Eileen Galvez are physically separated by about 2,900 miles — a 43-hour, coast-to-coast drive — between California State University-Dominguez Hills and Yale College.
But the CSU Higher Education Leadership students are both among 18 people named as 2022 fellows of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.
Both students are mentored by Susana Muñoz, an associate professor and HEL coordinator in CSU’s School of Education.
“Eileen and I are actually in the same cohort!” said Sérráno, the program director of the Queer Culture and Resource Center at Cal State-Dominguez Hills in Los Angeles and an adjunct faculty member in the Ethnic and Women Studies department at Cal State Polytechnic University in Pomona. “I genuinely appreciate my relationship with Eileen that has turned into a great personal friendship. I’m so thankful that I can share this opportunity with her in the AAHHE fellowship program. We would room together when we had our on-campus residency at CSU pre-pandemic.”
Galvez is assistant dean of Yale College (at Yale University) and director of La Casa Cultural de Julia de Burgos. “I can honestly say that I would not be the scholar I am today without Bri,” Galvez said. “I think it says a lot about our program that we were both selected, and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.”
Galvez added: “Our faculty have largely worked from Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, one in which we are empowered as co-creators, and where we develop in deep and personal critical thinking. It has been our faculty that has provided us with a humanizing environment that has allowed us to pose critical questions to our field.”
Closing the equity gap
Muñoz quoted Excelencia in Education, a Latina-led national advocacy organization, in saying that Latinx students must earn 6.2 million more degrees to close the national equity gap.
“To accomplish this goal, colleges and universities also need to think about diversifying their faculty, staff, and senior administrators. Representation matters,” Muñoz said. “Eileen Galvez and Bri Sérráno are two doctoral students in the HEL program who illuminate the change we need in higher education. They both bring a critical consciousness and analysis to their practice as student affairs practitioners, they use decolonial/critical methodologies in their research designs, along with humane and compassionate pedagogies in their teaching styles.”
Both reject the Hispanic label because they contend it relates to Spanish colonialism that included genocide and enslavement.
“My ancestral homelands are in El Salvador,” Galvez said. “For me, it’s important to counter these labels that falsely define our communities. I know that there will always be challenges in the academy as my community is hardly recognized, or not depicted in trauma-based manners, but I do know that the more I center myself within my communities, the more authentic my scholarly voice becomes. So whether the academy wants us or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re still here.”
Sérráno added: “I use the term ‘Latinx’ because I am non-binary and trans masc in my lived experience. This impacts my career aspiration to push against the grain of white supremacist colonial constructs of gender and sexuality that are inherent in the United States.”
Program centers on transformational change
Sérráno’s education includes a B.A. in Sociology and American Studies from California State-Fullerton and a M.Ed. in College Student Affairs from The Pennsylvania State University.
Galvez has worked with marginalized student groups at various universities for more than a decade and researches the experiences of U.S. Central Americans in higher education. Galvez’s education includes a B.A. in Political Science and an M.Ed. in Counseling & Guidance from Texas State University.
“The Higher Education Leadership doctoral program is one of very few graduate programs that intentionally centers equity, justice and transformational change in our curriculum and teaching,” Muñoz said. “We also model this in our admissions process, our cohort building, and virtual class environments. Bri and Eileen exemplify the mission of HEL, and I couldn’t be more proud of the students for all their contributions to our field, and I’m excited for all that they will accomplish in the years to come.”
Only one other institution had two 2022 fellows — the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.