family matters

Commencement speaker and proud first-generation Latina Jacqueline Torres has been on a mission to uplift her “academic brothers and sisters”

Jaqueline Torres
 “I want to break stereotypes of people of color. I want people to see Latinas as part of higher education,” says graduating senior Jacqueline Torres.
 

Come June, Jacqueline Torres, psychology and Chicano/Latino studies senior, will get on stage to speak to her fellow UCI School of Social Sciences graduates at their well-earned commencement ceremony. “It’s been a difficult and devastating few years,” says Torres. “There was COVID, the danger Black and Brown communities faced and continue to face, Asian American hate crimes. I saw an opportunity to stand up to the mic and honor the class of ’22 and advocate for our communities,” she says about the opportunity to address her fellow graduates.

Despite the difficulties of the past few years, Torres remains optimistic. If anything, the past few years have taught her to face challenges and difficult conversations head on.

“I want to encourage my classmates to use their power, their education, to make a better world. I want them to acknowledge racism and sexism. I want them to recognize people with disabilities and people from the LGBTQ community. I want them to see how our different intersectionalities play a huge factor in how we’re treated, so we can form a more empathetic and passionate world,” she says.

The power of education
Torres grew up in Inglewood and Lawndale. Her family was her lifeline.

“My family members were my number one supporters and my first friends. They taught me how to be respectful and how to be respected. They taught me to honor what I stand for,” she says.

Her family also taught her the value of an education. “They always supported me in pursuing higher education. They taught me that an education is a privilege and an honor,” Torres says.

When it came time to decide where to attend college, Torres chose UCI for its location and generous funding package.

I want to encourage my classmates to use their power, their education, to make a better world.

“I was really passionate about my high school AP psychology class. After that, I knew I wanted to be in a space of helping and uplifting others. I just didn’t know what that would look like yet or how to turn it into a career,” she says.

First steps
Torres seems so self-assured and community-oriented, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time she didn’t feel comfortable in her surroundings. But Torres admits that during her first two years at UCI, she experienced a bit of an adjustment period.

“It was lonely going to a class of 400 people when no one seemed interested in talking to me. I didn’t know what to say or how to navigate the situation. As a first-gen Latina, I was really experiencing imposter syndrome,” she says.

By her third year, Torres made finding a community a priority. Once she discovered the Latinx Student Psychological Association (LSPA), her college experience shifted. Through LSPA, she formed strong relationships with faculty and like-minded students who were also interested in pursuing a graduate degree.

LSPA was also where she met undergraduate studies associate dean Jeanett Castellanos. Castellanos, or Dr. C. as she’s affectionately called by her students, served as an inspiration to Torres in many ways.

“Dr. C. plants a seed in you and helps you grow. She welcomes you in, to what she calls her academic family, and refers to us as academic brothers and sisters. Seeing a Latina faculty member who was so invested in students inspired me to do more. She seemed like a she-ro,” says Torres.

“After LSPA, everything snowballed,” Torres continues. “LSPA and Dr. Castellanos opened a lot of doors. I found my identity. I connected to my community and culture. I found passion and purpose.”

Torres was inspired to apply to research positions and was fortunate to be offered an opportunity in Castellanos’ research lab. She was also motivated to pursue her own research on Latinx spiritual practices, to mentor high school students, and to become a life coach for her fellow Anteaters in the Creating Options and Conquering Hurdles (C.O.A.C.H.) program.

From the long list of Torres’s accomplishments, the achievement of which she is most proud is just showing up to her first LSPA meeting, where she is currently co-president.

“I advocated for myself and formed a community on campus. I was able to repress that imposter syndrome and take that first step to join LSPA and then become a peer advocate for Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) and then apply to be an ambassador for Deconstructing Diversity Initiative. The most beautiful part is my passion for community has continued to develop,” she says.

Better together
Another “she-ro” Torres credits for her success is associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies Ana Rosas. Rosas invited Torres to be part of her undergraduate research team and together they worked to plan events supported by UCI Illuminations.

“Seeing Latina faculty like Dr. Rosas was really impactful. As a first-gen student, it was really intimidating approaching faculty in what felt like a white-dominated space,” says Torres. “Dr. Rosas wanted to know more about me and really cared about what I wanted to achieve. Sometimes I would throw out phrases in Spanish and she understood. It felt like I was talking to a family member.”

Rosas confirms Torres’s commitment to cultivating and investing in community.

“Jacqueline is among a handful of students who, when meeting with you, will always check in on how you are doing, what are important projects to consider contributing to, and how are fellow Latina/o/e/x students doing as they undertake demanding course and employment schedules, especially in the fields of Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/e/x studies. She does not underestimate how, as members of the UCI community, we have so much to learn from each other when we connect and the formative importance of dialogue when supporting each other,” says Rosas.

Bright days ahead
Torres has done an excellent job taking the emotional insights she’s gained from psychology and the social-economic context of Chicano/Latino studies and putting them into action.

“She encouraged fellow students to discuss their feelings as they undertook the important work of advancing their academic and civic engagement goals while being there for loved ones shouldering the rigors of the COVID-19 pandemic across a diversity of contexts and spaces,” says Rosas.

In fall, Torres plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in psychology with the hopes of working with college students someday. During her gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, she will work as an academic counselor to high school students applying to college. In addition, she will be working with faculty from The Paris Institute of Political Studies and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Monterrey, Mexico on a quantitative research investigation focused on undocumented Mexicans in sanctuary cities.

“I want to break stereotypes of people of color. I want to advocate for gender equity for my little cousins. I want people to see Latinas as part of higher education,” says Torres.

“I have grown at UCI. UCI has shown me what’s most urgent. The understanding I learned at CARE, the need to end racial-ethnic prejudice through the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative, the importance of engaging in intentional research focused on uplifting our communities through Summer Academic Enrichment Program and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the training I received as a peer life coach for the C.O.A.C.H. program have all prepared me for life ahead,” she says. 

 

 

 

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