Rocío A. Pérez, Principal of Inventiva Consulting, shares her story of attending college as a first-generation college student. She writes of how she grew up in a distressed town in Texas and how both her parents had grade school educations. Her father struggled to find work and so her family moved more than ten times during her childhood, cutting her off from valuable relationships and schooling. As a young teen, she ran away from home, had a child, and started to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. In college, while working two jobs, she felt “lost and alone” and had no one to help or guide her. She writes, “Fortunately, I kept moving forward, found my way to and through college and paved the way for myself while leading the way for others.” Today she is the CEO of her own company and helps organize the GlobalMindED conference, which connects first-generation college students to mentors, internships, and other opportunities to help them succeed.
On a campus tour at Colorado State University, two prospective students joined the group late after driving up from their home in New Mexico. The young men were shy, wore clothes typical for most high school boys, and were Native American. Then a mother on the tour called campus police to report them. She said they weren’t part of the tour and that they “really stand out.” She commented on their silence and said their clothing had “weird symbolism.” Campus police eventually cleared up the confusion but the young men missed their tour and were left feeling particularly unwelcome on a campus they had hoped would be their new home. The university has since offered the young men reimbursement for their trip and a VIP tour of the school. The president of the university, Tony Frank, emphasized that “The very idea that someone—anyone—might ‘look’ like they don’t belong on a CSU admissions tour is anathema. People of all races, gender identities, orientations, cultures, religions, heritages, and appearances belong here.”
Harmony Cox describes what it’s like as a “fat woman working in food justice.” She says people are “trained to see me as a problem” and that she represents to people exactly what she’s fighting to end—poverty driven obesity. She shares stories of her upbringing, like how her family could only afford the cheapest and usually most unhealthy foods in order to survive. Some of her colleagues, who mean well and work hard, make assumptions based on stereotypes of class and obesity and act on toxic narratives about how fat people are a burden on society. She explains that food access conversations are “often tinged with judgment about personal responsibility and time management.” She also critiques food access programs based on these stereotypes or programs that take a one-size-fits-all approach. Today, she works in the neighborhood she grew up in to provide healthy food options to residents, and although it can be challenging, she writes, “I will do what I can to build communities where choice and dignity are a part of the food access picture.”