By Audriannah Horne
Each year, the University of Washington Bothell recognizes two student civic leaders with the Chancellor’s Student Civic Leadership Awards. Sponsored by the Washington Campus Coalition for the Public Good, this award acknowledges students who address critical issues on campus and in their communities through service and social entrepreneurship.
Recently, Chancellor Kristin G. Esterberg announced that senior Jose Cuevas-Lopez and junior Itzetl Vixtha Teoba are the recipients of this year’s awards.
Both Cuevas-Lopez and Vixtha are in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. Lopez plans to graduate this June with a double major in Media & Communication Studies and in Law, Economics & Public Policy. Vixtha is on track to receive her degree in Media & Communication Studies in December.
A need to be heard
As a first-generation college student of Mexican and Latinx descent, Cuevas-Lopez knows firsthand the ways in which systemic and social barriers can disrupt access to education. He has not always felt heard in academia, and he discovered this was an experience shared by other people in his community.
Recognizing this, he made it his mission to uplift the voices and lived experiences of first-generation students and students of color. But the reality of working multiple jobs and attending UW Bothell full-time made it difficult to fulfill his mission.
“As part of my major, I had the opportunity to work with Anida Yoeu Ali, senior-artist-in residence in the School of IAS,” said Cuevas-Lopez. “She encouraged me to apply for the Joy of Giving Something Fellows presented by Imagining America, and it has made all the difference.”
Cuevas-Lopez was selected for the 2022-23 cohort — one of only eight student artists and creatives from across the country to receive this honor. It comes with a $2,000 tuition scholarship, mentoring, financial support for a community project, learning exchanges and support to attend IA’s National Gathering.
Lifting up student voices
For his community project, Cuevas-Lopez connected with UW Bothell Student Media and with the Student Diversity Center to develop a podcast of BIPOC, first-generation students about what it means to belong and to be a part of UW Bothell.
“I am living the experience I want to highlight in this podcast,” said Cuevas-Lopez. “I want to explore the barriers to access and belonging that students face, with the hope that I can help provide campus leaders with recommendations for how to more deeply engage with and support a sense of belonging for students like me.”
Cuevas-Lopez is finalizing the interviewees for the podcast and plans to launch it later this quarter.
Courage in community
Similarly to Cuevas-Lopez, Vixtha has struggled to feel like she belonged in college. A first-generation, undocumented student, she used to think about giving it all up. Yet, “quitting was not an option once I found students who were also feeling out of place — and faculty and staff who would not give up on us,” Vixtha said. “They helped me find resources and support that I never realized were available to me.
“I’ve found courage in community.”
Vixtha has in fact found courage in multiple communities. She immersed herself as part of the first cohort of the Digital Scholars program, which provides first-generation students with skills in digital marketing, data analytics, social media and data visualization. She also worked in the Student Diversity Center, welcoming students and helping to create a safe space where the needs, demands and capacities of diverse populations can be shared.
Mentoring the next generation
Away from campus, Vixtha helps low-income and undocumented families in her community. She is now a mentor to young students who are first-generation and undocumented, serving as a role model and demonstrating that college is possible for them, too.
“I know the impact a little attention and support can have on a student who is struggling to fit in,” Vixtha said. “Anything I can do to help more youth from my community attend college, I’ll do it.”
Vixtha has helped students far away from UW Bothell, as well, when she participated in a virtual internship with Pravah, a New Delhi nonprofit organization that develops youth leadership throughout India using social justice campaigns.
Creating a better future
The Student Civic Leadership Award recognizes civically engaged and passionate students who are dedicated to making a difference on their campuses and in their communities, said Esterberg.
“Through their individual contributions and initiatives,” she noted, “Jose and Itzetl are helping faculty and staff at UW Bothell to create the best possible environment for all students to learn and to thrive.
“This award is a testament to their leadership and commitment to service, as well as the positive impact they have had on our campus.”