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Higher Education in our Barrios

Yelena Bivian

We remember the leaky roofs on a rainy days.

We remember the written in textbooks that we used in class.

We remember thinking of the luxuries of richer schools and sighing.

Or at least I do.

As a child, I remember thinking about all the help I would bring to my community. This same thought was shared by classmates and other kids on the playground. We would talk about fixing all the things we didn’t like. How not only school but our community would be a great place. A place were no kid would we forced to try to make out the sentences that were blacked out with sharpie.

With this thought in mind, many students go to school pursuing higher education, not only as a personal gain but with the idea of returning to their communities. The same communities that did so much to educate us. We were told from a very young age that education was key.

The image of our tired parent’s faces as they encouraged, us to continue thriving in our studies is an image that reminds us of the dedication and struggles that our parents went through to help us get where we are today. Their enthusiasm and motivation to get us to pursue higher education was mainly encouraged by our community school districts. As the years progressed, more and more emphasis was placed on college and the advantages of a degree.

Myself, and many others set off to pursue higher education, we enrolled into our institutions but what we quickly found out was that many of us didn’t have the right tools to navigate our academic success. We were left drowning in an academic world that we were not prepared for, luckily or so we thought, our academics and institutions helped us tread the water. We adapted to the way of thinking and learning from these institutions and excel, finally being able to swim just like everyone else.

However, in our journey of achieving the tools needed to fit in we forget about the tools we acquired in our communities. This idea was brought to my attention in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” by Audre Lorde. In this essay, Lorde speaks out on how many women depend on strategies or tools learned in institutions or the Master’s House to fight against the Master. This however doesn’t work because they have accepted and hold on tightly to the tools attained at these institutions that they have nothing else to rely on. “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” (Lorde,27)

We learn how to properly speak but what we say leaves in impact. We are too busy trying to figure out how to correctly express ourselves in this academic world that we devalue the importance of what is going on in the real world. Yes, we have learned how to network and gain reinforcement for the cause. Yet, the cause is no longer the main idea.

We forget about the struggle.

We forget about what it was like growing up or living in our communities.

The blacked out textbooks are replaced with trying to present a well thought off argument.

Our survival and the things we learn by living in our communities is something that isn’t taught in institutions. Our unique experiences are often cast aside by flowery description or impressive vocabulary that impress the public but have little to no substance.

Students quickly fall into the safety bubble that engulfs an institution and we cease to recreate scenarios that can only be imagined scenarios by some of our peers. We start finding fault in our upbringing or embarrassment of the community we belonged to. We then are also limited by the lack of emotions that is frowned upon in academia when trying to describe certain issues that are often lost or irrelevant because they don’t fall into the agendas or issues often addressed in school.

Now by no means is education or higher education institutions being discredited. We go to school to obtain the tools that are often hard to get in our respective communities. However, this is more of a call to action to not forget about what lies outside the academic world. To remember the frustrations and the desire to achieve more not just for oneself but for the kids that were left behind. For those, that desire improvement of their fellow communities remember progress is good but progress does not mean forgetting what it meant to live there. Just like the image of our parent motivates us to do better, the image of neighbors, friends, and others who helped nurture the desire of improving your community should motivate and remind you of what that community is.

For me this means using the resources I have discussed in class and incorporating them into my life to advocate for what I think is needed in my community. My strong opinions reinforced by the material covered at school have allowed me to spoke to representatives from my school district. I have gone out to the community to places like the youth center and public library and talked to people about what think think is needed.

In the future, I wish to use my writing abilities to bring attention to the gentrification that is occurring withing my city. I want to shed light on the rapid and drastic changes that are affecting the lifestyle of city residents. I highly recommend Audre Lorde’s essay as well as Zami Sister Outsider Undersong by Audre Lorde if you are interested in her work!

Let me know what you think! What are some important lessons that your community has taught you that can’t be taught at school? Let’s talk about it.

Author: Yelena Bivian

Yelena, most commonly known as Yeli is a proud first-generation Mexican-American student currently enrolled at the University of Redlands as a junior. Her bilingual upbringing motivated her to pursue a double major in English Literature and Spanish as well as a minor in Philosophy. Influenced by her community, Yelena aspires to go into publishing and pursue writing.

When she isn’t drowning in essays or partaking in philosophical debates, she enjoys reading, listening to music too loud for her ears, running and working out.


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