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Dr. Cynthia Alvarez “Navigating the Borderlands and Overcoming Survivor’s Guilt When You’re ‘First-Gen for Life’”



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by dr. Saby Labor in Audio, Blog, Resources
May 15, 2018 0 comments

In this episode, Dr. Cynthia Alvarez shares what it means to be ‘first-gen for life’. Her work celebrates and supports first-generation students, parents, and family members. She speaks to her experiences straddling two worlds, experiencing survivor’s guilt, and imposter syndrome. Her earliest experiences as a student observing structural barriers experienced by her twin brother influenced her pursuit of a Ph.D., so that she could enact positive change in educational environments. Dr. Alvarez shares a key piece of guidance informed by her own professional lessons learned.

About Dr. Cynthia Alvarez:
Cynthia L. Alvarez, Ph.D. was born and raised in Indio, CA. A daughter of immigrant parents who came to the U.S. as day laborers and field workers, Dr. Alvarez grew up with an idea that her parents planted in her head: receiving a college education was the ticket to a better life. Dr. Alvarez attended the University of California, Los Angeles and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Chicana/o Studies and Women’s Studies in 2007, a Master’s Degree in Higher Education in 2008, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education in 2016. She is now a coordinator with First Year Experience where she implements programs that help students transition into the college environment and continue their journey toward graduation. Dr. Alvarez has produced multiple articles and studies about the experiences of Latino/a students and families. Dr. Alvarez has also worked as a research analyst for the Higher Education Research Institute and as a lecturer within the Department of Chicana/o Studies. Throughout the years she has kept involved in outreaching and mentorship efforts in Los Angeles and the greater Los Angeles area. As a researcher, her expertise lie in issues of college access, particularly for Latinx students, the issues families face when thinking and deciding about college, and the influence of family dynamics in the development of college-going perceptions and aspirations.

Read Full Transcript

Show Highlights:

  • Cynthia talks about her identity as a first-gen Chicana student and how she navigates the world today 08:45
  • Learn more about how Cynthia uses her personal experience and passion for first-gen students to help support their successful transitions to college at UCLA 10:18
  • Cynthia explores her origins in the deserts of California and how she had to leave it behind to achieve her dreams 26:41
  • Listen to how Cynthia geeks out in her personal life and how it blends into her professional world 36:26
  • Cynthia shares why it is important to speak your own truth when you have a seat at the table 41:32
  • Hear how Cynthia encourages inclusion professionals to speak with each other to help everyone reach higher levels of success 44:44

Notable Quotes:

  • “I am a strong believer that work involving supporting our first gen students is not a responsibility of just one office. This work is work that should and can be shared with other campus partners. At the end of the day, it is our collective effort that makes a campus a welcoming space for first gen students.” 12:44
  • “Being a first gen college student is an identity that stretches out throughout your life…it forces you to enter a different realm….There is a lot of learning that continues to happen.” 17:41
  • “When times get tough, the thing that will pull you through is that passion inside. That passion for achieving social justice.” 23:45
  • “I feel a sense of responsibility to use all these skills I’ve gained from others efforts and helping me get here. And use them to advance accessibility to the university and help my community have access to a good life.” 33:22
  • Inspirational quote from Arundhati Roy:
    “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. “ 47:34

Links Mentioned:

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