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Titan Spotlight

‘Let Me Share’ Strikes a Chord With Faculty and Students Alike

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There are over 1,500 graduate students of color at CSUF who have important stories to share.

Just ahead of César Chávez Day, four graduate students of color read 120 Black and Latinx stories and reflections on navigating grad school at Cal State Fullerton. Project upGRADS had been collecting these stories over the previous months. The purpose: Provide insight into the lives of many of their graduate students, and to remind other Black and Latinx grad students that they are not alone in their struggles and triumphs.

Latin music, coffee and poster boards with poignant excerpts from students’ stories accompanied the approximately 40 audience members as they assembled in the Titan Student Union’s Titan Theatre on March 27. Alexandro Gradilla, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano studies, pointed out that “these are stories students share with each other and off campus with friends and family but often don’t feel free to reveal to faculty or staff.”

Following Gradilla’s comments, graduate students Brian Curiel-Castellanos, Moriah Pushpa Esquivel Narang, Sergio Daniel Sifuentes and Akilah Young — all history M.A. students associated with the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History — gave voice to roughly 120 student comments and anecdotes. These stories touched on experiences that ranged from the anxieties at the time of their first application to the comforts and stresses of familial obligations, the double burden of full employment, the blind spots of professors, the beauty of mentorships, the comfort of peer networks, and their future dreams and purpose.

Some stories moved audience members, like the grief of a parenting student having to leave her young daughter. Others shocked, like the stress a student experienced as their grandfather became the victim of cartel violence. Some comments amused, many inspired. While candid about the uphill battles of students of color, the event ended on a hopeful note. Alma (a pseudonym to protect the student’s privacy) reflected in closing: “I see the future and it’s happening, one step at a time. It’s happening when my nieces ask what I do for a living, what I’m going to school for and what I’m doing there. … It’s happening when I receive a LinkedIn message from a young Latina who is contemplating my program. … In more baby steps and leaps that I can count: It’s happening.”

Whether familiar or surprising, the audience relished the opportunity to hear these rarely broadcast voices: “The excerpts selected were very moving,” said Nilay Patel, associate professor of biological science. “There was a meticulous organization of quotes, and I am thoroughly impressed. The narrators did a great job.” Another faculty agreed: “I loved listening to the voices of the students represented. It gave me a broader understanding of their experiences. I appreciated the opportunity to see them as ‘fully human.’” A student who had lived one of the stories read on the stage was no less moved: “It’s just so weird and crazy to hear my life from someone else’s mouth if that makes sense. It really grounded the gravity of the whole situation. I have always just brushed it off as a part of my life so just hearing it … it felt really raw.”

These reactions speak to the effect Project upGRADS has been trying to achieve: For faculty, to see the full humanity of students of color, and for students, to feel seen, heard and understood better by faculty.

A full recording of the event and an extended print version of the reading is available on the Project upGRADS website.

Volker Janssen