Office of Inclusive Excellence

Encontrando la Luz: Experiences Navigating a white Academic World

September 3, 2023

By Jissel Antonio

Reflect on your education experience. Una declaración que me pone triste, enojada, y pensativa. As a first generation low income con padres indocumentados my educational journey has been far from easy, pero aún asi I would not change it because it has made me who I am today. De niña, I did not understand why my teachers would look at me with a pitiful face as if they felt sorry for me, others would show their anger when I spoke my native language in class. Or why my middle school teacher excluded me from a class book publication as she deemed my writing to be “bad” and “not good”, killing every last bit of ambition and motivation I had for school, for writing, and for reading. ¿Qué podía hacer yo? Morenita, con ojos cafes, pelo negro navigating dominant white spaces. I did not fit in my predominant white schools. My pride of being Oaxaqueña was washed away and replaced by shame, fear, and anger. Feeling stuck in Nepantla, entre dos mundos, ni de aquí ni de allá. 

As this was my experience through most of my k-12 journey.  It was not until college that I found words for my experiences, where(some) professors watered me with kindness, to which my love for writing started to grow and flourish once again, where I met professors of color I aspire to be. Through my college experience I have found a sense of community and moved away from the narrative of education having to be an individualistic experience. Through my research I find myself connecting to the experience of otters and the importance of acknowledging the voice of young people. Where education and knowledge comes from the self and not just from a traditional textbook. I have found spaces and communities where my voice and perspective matter and are valued. I found healing and liberation through my writing, reading, and connecting with my community. 

I write as I am still navigating this white academic world, but I am now aware that there are educators wanting to see me flourish, Chicana scholars that share these experiences, research outside of traditional methodologies and perspectives. As this is my experience, I acknowledge that this is the experience for many young people of color navigating our white academic world and have had their voice silenced. Though I have now come to the understanding that through voicing our vulnerabilities, sharing our embodied experiences, we move as a collective to a genuine solidarity. 

Jissel Antonio is a first generation, fourth year student, UROC/McNair scholar, and Student Service Leader at the Service Learning Institute and is majoring in Humanities and Communication with a concentration in Ethnic and Gender Studies.