Jorge Azpeitia remembers walking through the University of Washington Bothell campus when he was a first-year student, his eyes drawn to the posters hung in recognition of that year’s Husky 100 honorees. “I was in complete admiration,” Azpeitia said, “I wanted to be just like them.”
Each year, the UW recognizes 100 undergraduate and graduate students from the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses who are making the most of their time at the University. The recipients actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom, applying what they learn to make a difference on campus, in their communities and for the future. Azpeitia is one of 12 students from UW Bothell to be recognized this year.
A spring 2021 graduate with degrees in Media & Communication Studies and in Culture, Literature & the Arts, Azpeitia isn’t “like” the recipients he looked up to years ago — he is one.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “It feels like coming full circle.”
As a first-generation college student, Azpeitia is charting new territory for himself and his family. “Going to college was an accomplishment in itself but to have become a student leader on campus, graduate with a 3.7 GPA and be named a Husky 100 recipient — I have more to be proud of than I ever thought possible,” he said.
“I now realize I am capable of so much.”
Theory to practice
Azpeitia describes his Husky experience as a process of both learning and unlearning. “I spent a lot of time unlearning the Eurocentric/colonized values and ideals I was taught growing up, and and re-learning them through a more inclusive lens with the help of my ethnic studies curriculum and diversity courses,” he said. “That was a crucial part of my growth.”
Ben Lopez, program manager for Student Engagement & Activities, said Azpeitia continually challenged himself to discover more about the world and how he relates to it. “This has prepared him to graduate with not only academic knowledge but also practical skills in turning theory into practice,” he said.
One example of Azpeitia putting knowledge into action is seen in his work as a 2019-20 social justice organizer for SEA. In this role, he hosted programs that gave space for students like him — first generation, queer, Latinx — to talk about some of the challenges they face on college campuses.
“This not only created a sense of community for students who struggled to find it at times, but it also cultivated these students’ voices so they could take ownership of their Husky experience just like Jorge did,” Lopez said.
One event that Azpeitia remembers being particularly impactful was centered on the history of the first Thanksgiving celebration. “Thanksgiving has been taught as the origin story of what would later become the United States,” Azpeitia said, “but many Native Americans say it is a reminder of the slaughter of millions of Indigenous people and the theft of their lands.”
Azpeitia said the conversation started by talking about how a holiday can mean different things in different cultures. Then, it transformed into a space where first-generation students could speak about how their experiences were different than that of their white and middle- and upper-class peers. “People really started to open up,” Azpeitia said. “I even had one person tell me that it was the first time he had been in a space like that. He was so grateful that he started to cry.”
Rising to the occasion
When classes moved online last year due to the pandemic, Azpeitia shifted to continue his advocacy remotely. Lopez said he worked tirelessly to re-imagine how he and the rest of the SJOs could support students during the remote operations.
With the team, Azpeitia developed and launched the SJO’s “Real Talk” podcast series, a vehicle for students to come together and begin to make some sense of everything that was going on in the world.
“I knew I didn’t want to force people to sit in another Zoom meeting, and I also knew I wanted to create something that people could access at any time,” he said. “A podcast was the perfect solution.”
Lopez said this digital space proved invaluable, with more than 100 students joining discussions on xenophobia and COVID-19, cancel culture, and hip-hop’s connection to resisting police violence.
“At a time when the coronavirus was flipping the world upside down and certainty about the future was hard to find, Jorge recognized his position as a leader on campus and rose to the occasion,” said Lopez. “He is a leader we all could be proud to have representing the University of Washington.”
Not just an activist, Azpeitia is also an artist. In fact, of his accomplishments during his undergraduate career, he is most proud of the freelance photography business he launched as a first-year student.
“I took a lot of senior photos and was even hired to travel to Ireland to shoot engagement photos,” he said. “It was an incredible experience and so, so cool.”
One of his photographs was recently published in the 2021 edition of Clamor, UW Bothell’s literary and arts journal. Titled “Joshua Tree Hallucinations,” the image is of his friend Ivana on a photography trip in summer 2019.
“I enjoy photography because it provides a way of visual storytelling and allows you to document certain ideas or topics from your own positionality,” Azpeitia said. “You can capture different moments, people and cultures as a photographer, and you can share your vision with others.”
As Azpeitia leaves college behind, he says he will carry forward his curiosity and the confidence he has found in himself. He intends on using his education to continue creating safe communities and empowering others.
“I want to become a leader and educator for Latinx and other people of color to help them move past stereotypes presented in media and throughout society.”
Lopez says Azpeitia’s Husky 100 recognition is a well-deserved crowning achievement on an already outstanding undergraduate career. “In his time at UW Bothell, Jorge started discovering his potential as a leader, and I am excited to see where he goes from here,” Lopez said.
“He leaves a legacy of strength and compassion that will be felt long after graduation.”