Bay Area educators help guide first-gen, Latinx grad students to higher degrees in new book

Lauren Martinez Image
Friday, September 29, 2023
Bay Area educators help guide Latinx grad students to higher degrees
At San Jose State University, Dr. Magdalena Barrera and Dr. Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales shared their new book 'The Latinx Guide to Graduate School.'

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Two first-generation Latina college graduates and now educators want to help guide students to a higher degree.

At San Jose State University Wednesday, they shared their new book 'The Latinx Guide to Graduate School.'

Dr. Magdalena Barrera said the book came to be when she and Dr. Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales were both teaching Mexican American studies at San Jose State. Barrera said they bonded early on their approach to mentoring students.

"We had a mutual colleague who asked us individually do you know of a guide for 'first gen' Latinx students who are interested in graduate school and we both said no- I don't think a guide like that is out there," Barrera said.

Negrón-Gonzales said they started to see there was a huge need. She said the book was a way they could draw from their experiences and offer support to not only their students, but all.

"We were able to see through that experience that there were so many other students who had a similar set of questions, were trying to make their way through, with similar set of struggles and challenges," Negrón-Gonzales said.

According to the 2019-2020 data from the National Center of Education Statistics, 7.8 percent of all doctoral degrees were earned by Latinos, compared to 57% by white students.

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"There's a plethora of struggles that are faced by our community and we need visionary, passionate engaged scholars to be able to take up that work to be able to create change in our community," Negrón-Gonzales said.

Former San Jose State students who are also now educators shared their experiences.

Alfonso Campos is currently an Assistant Professor at Butte College.

"You realize as you're in grad school as you continue to go up that the communities and circles get smaller," Campos said.

Dr. Alicia Bencomo Garcia is an Assistant Professor at Cabrillo College. She was the first in her family to go to college and one of the first in her small town in Central California.

"We tend to come from schools that are under-resourced, underfunded, and so then we get to college and universities and you're sitting in classrooms with students that had the complete opposite experience," Bencomo Garcia said. "Where even in my Ph.D. program I had colleagues who for spring break were doing writing retreats in Spain. Or flying somewhere for a writing retreat and I'm like I need to work during my spring break and so being aware of the differences."

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Bencomo Garcia also addressed how she recognized her identity doesn't need to be split.

"I went through my Ph.D. program thinking that I had to live like separate lives." Bencomo Garcia said. "Academically I had to be one person and personally had to be another person."

The discussion showed undergrad and graduate students that there is a path and community out there for them.

Juan Carlos Aguirre is a Master's student studying Anthropology at SJSU.

"It lets other people know one, that I'm not crazy, I'm not experiencing something that's unique to me but it's something that other people have experienced and also overcome," Aguirre said.

"Just share that lived experience of like being in 'comunidad' with people and be like, dude yes me too," Aguirre said. "I'm stressed, yes I'm overworked and yes I have imposter syndrome or whatever the situation we're going through it lets other people know one, that I'm not crazy right? I'm not experiencing something that's unique to me but it's something that other people have experienced and also overcome. And there's solutions on how to overcome that."

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The book is meant to be a resource for students and faculty.

"I think among the barriers students face - entering an academic culture that doesn't know how to take advantage of students cultural strengths and values. What are ways again as educators as advisors we can shift up our policies, our practices in the classroom and outside of the classroom to make this pathway more equitable and this is a good thing to do not only for Latinx success which is a rising demographic but really for the success of all students," Barrera said.

Barrera currently works as the Vice Provost of Faculty Success at SJSU.

Dr. Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is an Associate Professor at USF.

A link to order The Latinx Guide to Graduate School can be found here.

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