The USC U don’t C >
April 21, 2022
No todo es color de rosa. Like my friend Rolly says, “There is a USC that you don’t see.”
Holistic admissions? I love it. I am all in for decreasing barriers and increasing access for students to enter spaces of higher education. Do you know the percentage of Latinx individuals in higher education? There is not many of us, but that is changing. We are changing it.
As the new director of admissions, Dr. Anvarizadeh and her team pushed for a holistic process that would view applicants as whole individuals—considering their core values, thoughts about equity, diversity, and inclusion, etc.—and not just as a set of test scores or GPAs. Let me tell you why this has been a game changer, but more importantly, why the work can not stop only with holistic admissions.
In 2018, I graduated from Cal Poly SLO with my first collegiate degree. The time that I had to rejoice in that feeling of being the first in my family to graduate college was short lived as my dad would be losing his job shortly after. I was quickly reminded of my role and my identity as a Mexican daughter, the eldest child in a family of eight. My educational and career goals were put on pause because as I was raised, in my Mexican culture, family comes before and is above everything. Naturally embracing that role, I texted my brothers to figure out how we were going to pull through, like we always do.
For the next year or so, I worked Monday-Sunday and gave my dad more than half of my paycheck. When I began considering the possibility of furthering my education and applying to graduate school, I felt guilty. I felt selfish. How could I be thinking about myself and what I wanted when my dad was still not 100% back on his feet? It is ironic because even the decision of going back to school was based on helping my parents. I needed this degree to be able to get a job in my field of interest and so that I could earn more money to give back to my family. That is how collectivist cultures like mine work.
The thought of resuming my role and identity as a student was great, but with what money and what time? What money was I able to save for grad school? What money did I have to spare to take the GRE more than once or to spend on study materials, for that matter? What time did I have to sit for a 4-hour exam more than once? I didn’t. Talk about the barriers that USC Chan’s holistic admissions addressed for me. In my application video I stated the occupations that got me through the difficult time my family faced: work and prayer.
That is my story, but I write this blog to highlight the fact that there are stories behind the BIPOC students being admitted into the program that you do not see. Holistic admissions have opened the door for us to be able to step into higher spaces, but to quote my friend Miriam De La Torre, “don’t invite us into the room if there is not a seat at the table open for us.” You see the faces and numbers that represent diversity but are ignorant to the adversity attached to them. If the work is not to be performative, we cannot continue to casually disregard that the “E” in the new JEDI curriculum stands for equity vs. equality. You can’t allow us into the room to watch us stand. Students need to be supported beyond admission.
Se tenía que decir y se dijo.
All this to say that many of us BIPOC student and allies are here to keep the momentum going to make sure we continue to do the work past holistic admissions. Like Dr. Anvarizadeh said at COTAD’s “Springing into Action” virtual event, we cannot do this in silo—we have to lock arms to see it through. I hope y’all are ready for what is to come as we continue to collaborate, work together, and build community.
That’s it. That’s the post.
As Women’s History Month comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on all the women who’ve helped shape me into the woman I am today while I learn how to use my voice for all the women to come. Here are some of them:
Over 75% of occupational therapists in America are women and I can’t wait to become one of them. To enter a profession filled with such intelligent, warm, compassionate, and beautiful individuals such as the ones pictured alongside me here always reassures me that I followed the right path. Both in and out of the classroom, I learn so much from their strength, resilience, and experiences. With all of us being at Chan at the same time and learning from our professors who are some of the most powerful women I’ve encountered in this profession, we are constantly challenged to grow into our power as well.
From middle school to undergrad, I’ve found lifelong friends along the way and I am so proud of the women we’ve become and are on our way to becoming! It’s extremely empowering to see my friends achieving their goals and doing the things we talked about growing up. I love hearing their stories about their respective fields – marketing, medicine, accounting, nursing, business, social work – and only hope they feel the same whenever I talk about OT. At this point, I’m pretty sure they could give you a pretty good definition of what occupation is 😉 Whether it be moving across the country to start a new job, going to graduate school, or buying a home, I love to see my favorite women succeed. It motivates me to work toward my dreams as well, so that we can all celebrate our wins together. #WomenPostingWs
Last but not least, there’s all the women in my family who have played a crucial role in who I am. Coming from a family of refugees and immigrants, obtaining degrees from all these fancy universities sometimes feels… snobby, even though it’s the very reason they came here – better opportunities for those who came after, for me. I think about this a lot and even more so once I became an aunt to two beautiful girls. While the strength, resilience, and sacrifices of my grandma, mom, aunts, and sisters have shaped who I am, my nieces help shape the woman I want to become.
When taken together, I am reminded of the complexities of being a woman, the many roles and expectations it comes with (both good and bad), and how this experience becomes further convoluted by things out of one’s control, including gender identity, being BIPOC, and the imposition of traditional gender roles. When I think about my own intersectionality, it is in relation to a new skill – learning how to use my voice to take up space. Growing up, I was told to become the docile, hardworking, obedient Vietnamese girl I was meant to be. As the youngest daughter, my thoughts often came last and my opinions were seldom considered as a serious contributor to the conversation. So as I grew into womanhood, being told that my voice mattered felt unnatural sometimes. It can still be difficult to organize my thoughts and convey them as a seamlessly delivered statement, without anticipating being silenced. I still haven’t figured out the surefire way to rectify this, but I do know how empowering it is when I use my voice and have folks right there alongside me, listening and lifting. I’d like to leave you with a poem I admire; it is my hope you use it to uplift the voices of all the women in your life, this month and every month until the end of time.
Hear me as a woman.
Have me as your sister.
On purpled battlefield breaking day,
So I might say our victory is just beginning,
See me as change,
Say I am movement,
That I am the year
And I am the era
Of the women.
“Won’t You Be My Sister?”
by Amanda Gorman
You’re Welcome >
February 26, 2022
I say that in the most humble way.
Here’s the thing about being first-gen—or maybe just about me—we’ve been conditioned to feel and express nothing but thankfulness when we’re given anything (an opportunity, admissions acceptance, a scholarship, etc.), rather than saying what we truly know.
“That’s right, I EARNED that, and I DESERVE it. You didn’t just HAND it to me…and if we’re being honest, you kinda need me.” Try saying that with your chest next time…maybe after you say thank you—but you get what I mean.
As I write this blog, I find myself deleting and rephrasing because I think to myself, “other college students feel that way too,” and that’s the problem. We minimize and sometimes dismiss our feelings trying to be considerate of others. All the typical college student feelz are valid, I am not trying to take that away. What I am saying is that they are compounded by being first-gen—that’s the power of intersectionality.
I don’t just exist as a student. I exist as the first-born and female daughter of Mexican parents—parents who brought me with them when they immigrated so that I could be “first-generation,” though I don’t think that’s what they intended. Mi mamá me dice, “Yo nunca imaginé que ibas a llegar hasta aquí,” and it’s not because she didn’t believe in me, she believes in me more than I believe in myself, it’s because we come from having nothing and knowing nothing. This matters because while many of my peers were enrolled in extracurriculars, sports, being tutored, etc., in the years preceding college applications, I was cleaning houses with my mom. The moment I learned to write and speak English, which was in 3rd grade, I was making my mom’s business cards on a 3x5 piece of paper and answering the phone when people called to inquire about her services. I cleaned houses with my mom from elementary to high school, up until I left for college.
I, like many of my fellow Latinx and first-gen brothers and sisters, had romanticized going to college and couldn’t wait to experience it. The truth is, experiencing college as a first-gen student is rewarding, but it’s even more exhausting. There’s pride and there’s guilt. We’re not just navigating academics and figuring out financial aid, we’re also simultaneously carrying out roles as our family’s’ primary interpreters, therapists, mediators, advocates, coparents (IYKYK) and so much more. There’s pride in knowing my siblings get to wear sweaters with the names of universities they actually know about and have visited. The pride in knowing that when teachers ask if said university is where they plan to attend, they get to say, “No. My sister went there for undergrad. She’s at USC getting her masters now,” is one of the many things being first-gen is all about. That, and the guilt that comes with it as we realize that this is only possible because our parents sacrificed their own dreams for ours.
I believe this is where the internalized superlative feelings of thankfulness stem from. Looking back to where we started, we can’t help but feel thankful for where we are now. But we’re not here because we paid our way in. I will always be thankful for every opportunity I have been given, but I will also acknowledge that it’s not a favor that is being done. Just as I remind myself that I worked for this, and I deserve it, I hope you do too.
So, to our alma matters (and future ones too, including USC), you’re welcome for choosing you. You’re welcome for our diversity, authenticity, and everything we have brought to the table.
I want to leave you with something that I was told and that I hold onto as I reflect on my journey through higher education:
“You had nothing, but at the same time you had it all.” – Dr. Rafeedie
10 tips from me to you >
December 20, 2021
My DM’s—and by DM’s, I mean email—have been poppin’ with variations of the same question: “Any advice/tips regarding the program or in relation to pursuing higher education?”
To be completely honest, I don’t know how I have made it this far. I guess it really is fake it till you make it, am I right? When you’re a first-gen student not only do you not have people to guide you through this journey, but you also don’t know what questions you should be asking to those that may be able to advise you. There’s a lot that I wish I would have known before romanticizing the idea of being the first in my family to go to college, pero no pasa nada oiga. Ya estamos aquí, y lo que me toca a mi is to share some of the things that have helped me thrive as a student and person. I’ll preface the rest of this blog by saying that these are general tips that I have put together as I look back on my academic career, but feel free to reach out for more specific advice if you need.
Okay so here we go, Blogmas day 10 = 10 tips from me to you 😊
10) Develop a morning routine
Morning routines are your friend. When I started the program, it was completely online, which made it easy to wake up minutes before class, roll over, grab my laptop, and log on from bed. It also made it easy to fall right back to sleep…oops. Needless to say, this was not a productive or effective start to my school day; I felt like I needed to do something to feel awake and alert for class in the mornings. One day I decided to wake up early to work out before class and let me tell you, it was life changing. I live by my morning routine and think we should all have one. Some one told me that there are two instances during which we can have the most control over our days—you can’t control what happens throughout your day, but you can decide how you start and end your day (for the most part). I choose to start my day with a morning routine because it sets the mood for the rest of my day and makes me feel accomplished from the get-go.
Silvia’s morning routine: wake up between 6:00 AM – 6:30 AM, do a 20-minute workout, drink a cup of water + coffee or tea, do my skincare.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told to get a good night’s sleep before an exam because you’ll do better than if you stay up late trying to cram…but you still chose to stay up? I won’t raise my hand because I don’t believe in pulling all-nighters. In undergrad I may have pulled one or two, but since starting OT school, I don’t compromise my sleep. Listen to NPR’s Ted Radio Hour podcast “Maslow’s Human Needs” starting at 6:30– you can thank me later.
8) Take a mental health day
That’s it. That is the advice. Don’t go to school, don’t go to work. Take a mental health day.
7) You don’t have to be productive every day
The student urge to make a to-do list of everything they want to get a head start on/finish when they have a day off is real. It’s me, I’m student. Last semester I had class Monday-Wednesday and fieldwork on Fridays. Thursdays were my free days and when I tried to be as productive as I could by getting ahead on readings or finishing assignments, on top of doing ambassador work. Some days though, I was tired and didn’t want to do any schoolwork. At first, I would beat myself up for wasting my day doing “nothing,” thinking it wasn’t “productive.” Truth is, we’ve been conditioned to think that we must always be working or on-the-go, that giving our bodies a rest seems unacceptable. But, in the wise words of my friend Amy, “It’s ok. You don’t need to be productive every day.”
6) Set boundaries
I’m not sure that I do this too well, but Kim said I do so I’m listing it here. Basically, check in with yourself and be realistic of how much you can handle. If you need to say no to something, or push a commitment back, do it.
5) What works for you, works for you
One thing about my cohort is that we help each other out. Everyone shares their study materials—whether it is a Quizlet or a study guide—and I love them for this. However, I can’t stress how important it is to know that what works for them may not work for you and vice versa. When my friends started sharing their study materials for an exam that I hadn’t even thought of, I became anxious, and the impostor syndrome kicked in. Was I smart enough or competitive enough to be in this program? I had to give myself a pep-talk to remind myself that we have all gotten here doing things differently and what works for me, works for me, anything beyond that can be used to supplement my study skills and habits. Let me know if you need a pep-talk.
4) Plan your days
I use my planner religiously. Even if my days look the same every day, I write down my schedule to a T, and try to stick to it as much as possible. Similar to my morning routine, this gives me a sense of control over my day, and there’s just something so satisfying about crossing things off as you go through your day.
3) “Not my best work” is good enough
If I had a dollar for every time I turned something in last semester and said, “that was not my best work,” I would have a lot of money, still not enough to pay my tuition, but enough to kick off my last semester of grad school with a girls trip.
For real though, doing the bare minimum is good enough sometimes. If you want to have a life outside of school, while still being a “good student,” you’re going to have to learn to prioritize which assignments need to be your best work, and which don’t. If it is a credit/no credit assignment do not spend more than an hour on it (and that’s pushing it).
2) Fake it till you make it
Pretty self-explanatory, I think.
1) Grades don’t matter
Ok, the do…but not really. All I can tell you is that if you’re debating between 1) depriving yourself of your favorite and restorative occupations to stress over studying to get an A, or 2) studying modestly while also balancing your other occupations and getting a B, do the latter. There’s more to life than school. You’re still going to graduate and become a great occupational therapist.
Alright friends, that’s it. I have to get back to babysitting but I’ll be back for Blogmas day 2!
La Primera, Pero No La Ultima >
November 9, 2021
To my sisters and to the siblings of other first-generation students: you belong here. We may be the firsts, but we won’t be the lasts.
“Everybody looks rich and smart.” — An observation of the USC Village made by my sister
Sis—do I look rich to you? Maybe a little smart, but rich? Talk about a “she doesn’t even go here” moment. I think about this moment a lot because reading between the lines it means that she can’t fully believe that I do go here, and even more upsetting, I don’t think she sees the possibility of herself going here either. This speaks to feeling like you don’t belong in certain spaces because when you look around, there isn’t many, if any, people who look like you. Though her description may not encapsulate everyone who goes to USC, her feelings and thoughts are valid. I, along with many other first-generation students, have felt this way throughout our collegiate journey.
When I tell you that immigrant, three-year-old, non-English speaking me could have never imagined being here today—finishing my master’s degree at the top OT program— I mean it. Growing up, college was never a topic of conversation in my house, yet education was always emphasized to be the key for a better future. Getting good grades was expected and not something to be rewarded for—the one time I asked my mom if I could get an allowance for having straight A’s she was quick to say “…mira mira, ya parece que te voy a dar dinero por hacer tu trabajo en la escuela…esa es tu responsabilidad.” Being a good student was my responsibility and something I took great pride in. Subconsciously, it was also something I held onto with the hopes of getting into a “good” college one day.
Going to college is such a romanticized notion though…from choosing your dream school, to moving away from home, living in a dorm, meeting the people who will become your lifelong best friends, and everything else that you daydream about until reality hits. How do you get to live all these experiences when you don’t even know the name of any universities (besides the ones stamped onto the sweaters your classmates wore), when you don’t know how/where to apply, when you’re poor and probably can’t even afford to live these experiences? I remember asking my dad if he had a savings account because, if I decided to go, college would be really expensive. He didn’t give me a clear answer but assured me that if I wanted to go to school, we would make it happen. In his words, “Hay mucho sacrificio que se tiene que hacer, pero independientemente de eso, [mientras que tenga el apoyo de todos, yo puedo] salir adelante.” Needless to say, pursuing higher education has been a very tiring journey.
It’s almost like being completely lost in the application process and scared that somehow you incorrectly inputted something in your FAFSA is a rite of passage for first-generation students. And I know for a fact that this isn’t true for all college students because I can name some of my high school peers whose parents did everything for them—but that’s besides the fact and my point is simply that we’re not all on an equal playing field. Being first-gen means figuring it out on your own and paving the way for those who will follow after you. Though this is rewarding, it is exhausting.
No one really talks about the culture shock that you may experience, the impostor syndrome, the burnout, the guilt, and all the other not-so-good things that come with college and that are compounded by being first-gen. Fully unpacking what it means to be first-generation, however, cannot be done in one blog, so stay tuned for the sequel. But I don’t want to end this blog without acknowledging that in the process of chasing and living out this dream of being the firsts in our families to go to college, we often lose sight of who we are and what we want. We carry the hopes, dreams, and sacrifices of our parents and families, which fuel our academic drive but also hold us back from other things we want to do with our life. So, I encourage you to check-in with yourself; what do you want?