De Anza Student Government Leaders

We checked in with three students in the Leadership and Social Change (LSC) Certificate Program at DeAnza. How did they learn about the program? How are they integrating what they’ve learned into Student Government? What’s next for each? Check out their full interviews below.

How did you learn about the Leadership and Social Change (LSC) Certificate Program at DeAnza and why did you decide to enroll in it? 

Mia: I was exposed to community activism growing up – my Mom was a teacher and involved in educational equity work and my Dad was a Brown Beret and was part of Chicano community organizing. So I knew these concepts but I thought they were personal to my family. I didn’t have that greater picture. In high school, the things my parents told me about weren’t talked about or broken down. I was involved in the Service Club but that was more charity based – we raised money to buy clean water for people who didn’t have it instead of asking: “So what are the issues that cause them to not have access to water?”

My first year at DeAnza I was involved with the campaign to raise the minimum wage. Through that work, I met Cynthia and VIDA.[1] I became a Peer Mentor with Latino Empowerment at De Anza (LEAD), a program and student club. We worked on issues like bringing Fair Trade items to the book store and creating a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Center, which now exists. When Cynthia told me I was already fulfilling a lot of the requirements for the Certificate, I enrolled in the classes I needed to complete it. Everyone in the LSC program had this amazing experience and had opinions about things. It was a space you could learn and grow no matter where you came from. I got involved because of my passion for the work but stayed for the community because the community is who inspired me and kept me going.

Thao: I come from a working class family and a middle class neighborhood but I went to a high school in a different neighborhood. That high school was about 80-90% Asian – I was into whole model minority myth and didn’t care too much about anything related to social change. My high school was so competitive I had a mental breakdown. I was see these injustices around education and mental health but had no way to talk about it because I did not know what to call it.  My first year at DeAnza, I signed up for Cynthia’s Critical Consciousness and Social Change class because it looked interesting. I was a little scared and thought it might be too intense but I fell in love with the ideas. Other students in the class told me about the Certificate and I decided to enroll.  Through the Certificate program, I learned about oppression and how to organize. I was able to understand and process what’s going on, have the language to talk about it, and know that I can connect with others to do something. The people in the Certificate are my family at DeAnza.

Arjun: Since childhood I had been learning about social issues and was aware of things happening in other parts of the world – like how capitalism was causing a culture that was not healthy – but from a very abstract point of view.  I grew up upper-middle class and came to DeAnza with a lot of passion and knowledge but no real exposure to issues or hands-on experience.  My introduction to the Certificate Program percolated through the amazing community of activists on campus, which I became connected to when I joined the Students for Justice Club as part of a civic participation requirement for an American Politics class. Through this network, I heard about the Certificate Program – I took the Critical Consciousness and Social Change class and learned about social movements, organizing skills, and emotional intelligence. But what really drew me in was that the Certificate Program is not just a set of classes, it’s a community hub and a way to connect with this network of passionate engaged leaders who discuss issues and feed off of one another.

What have you learned in the Certificate Program that you are bringing to your work with student government?  What changes have you brought about in and through student government?

Mia:  In the past, student government had been made up predominantly of people who were privileged and there to build their resumes and their power. It was not representing everybody.  So about three years ago, a few of us involved with LSC and LEAD put together a coalition called Revolution for Equity.  Our coalition represented diverse constituents and got 20 people elected to DASB.  The next year, our coalition ran me for President and someone else for Vice President and we won.  We put everything we learned about coalitions through LEAD and Certificate program into practice.  Everybody’s voice mattered in the planning to create a collective layer of values that we wanted to take with us to the DASB.  We didn’t just want DASB to represent students, we wanted to include them in the process. I took inspiration from the Certificate Program, where you know that everybody has experience and something to bring to the table. That point was really important to bring to the DASB.

We also brought the idea of equity into play. DASB has a budget of $1.4 million to allocate for students programs. We asked: How do we allocate this in a way that is equitable? So instead of just saying all programs get the same amount, we looked at which programs had been underfunded in the past and which students had less access to resources than others. That had never been done before.  When programs like LEAD first started, it was a huge fight to get them funded because the DASB didn’t see their importance.

Likewise, the Environmental Sustainability Committee, which I’m now Chair of, is now taking a more justice-oriented approach. We’ve moved away from “OK, everybody, don’t for get to recycle!” to including students in the process of figuring out how to be sustainable. Last year, we set up a $30,000 Eco Fund for student-led sustainability projects.  Last quarter, we funded our first two projects: a Monarch Educational Butterfly Garden that connects us to the broader eco-system and involves DeAnza students in educating young students that come for field trips; and a Water Policy Project, a joint effort between political science and environmental science professors and students looking at who owns water, how it’s regulated, and how the water crises is an environmental justice issues involving race.  This year, we’re reaching out to students to help them develop an idea for a campaign or project and apply for funding.

Thao: I’m on the Finance Committee and we’ve also brought more attention to equity issues – to making sure programs are funded equitably and targeting money to different communities.  In the past, the Committee would have one meeting where all the programs would have two minutes to make their case.  This year, we decided to visit every school program and actually talk to them before making decisions. We wanted to really see how much the program affects students and what direction it’s growing in.  We’re also funding student-led advocacy and organizing campaigns. A lot of people don’t think that’s as important as other things (like tutoring programs) but when we let students organize, the impact they make is massive. For example, look at the minimum wage campaign or Campus Camp Wellstone.

We’re also making sure we build institutional memory. It’s only recently that we have students who have this connection between student government and social justice so one of the things we’ve been trying to do is to record down what we are doing, the changes we’re making, and why we are making them so that can be passed on.

Arjun:  Last year Thao and I and another student from LSC organized a new coalition that was heavily informed by the Certificate program.  We took what we were learning in the Certificate program – about social justice; race, class, and gender; non-violent communication – and infused it into the coalition.  Running with that coalition was incredible – we ran as a team and strategized, planned, and reached out to students together.  Once in DASB, we were very hands on in working for equity and looking for ways to make it easier for students who are struggling financially (for example, we got local businesses like Staples to agree to students discounts).  We’ve been very intentional about social justice.  I helped facilitate a training for the Senate on non-violent communication and emotional intelligence. That has completely changed the dynamic. Last Senate, we had some tension. This year, we are more unified and have real conversations with each other about social justice issues and the work we are doing with each other. We use language that’s not oppressive or triggering. It’s been a very cohesive experience.

Mia:  A lot of times people don’t want to step up and makes changes because they think, oh, it’s never going to be different.  So experiencing change in DASB has been inspiring – last year there was a lot of push back and this year it’s really awesome to see how people are working together. I know that I’ll also carry that with me the little things we do very intentionally, such as the way we facilitate meetings – instead of just getting into business, you have check ins with one another to see what’s going on, how are you doing.  The little ways you intentionally bring yourself into spaces of organizing is huge.

What’s next for each of you?

Mia: I’m getting ready to transfer and really excited to see what happens next. The Certificate Program gave me opportunities to travel, work with other people, and work on amazing projects with concrete outcomes. It’s been incredibly inspiring and reinforced my belief that learning from one another and working in community is one of the most powerful things you can do to effect change. I know now that where ever I go next, I can create the community I want to be part of. That’s not something I thought was possible before. Long-term, I do eventually hope to run for office and I hope to bring that type of coalition building and grassroots organizing to my campaign and whatever policy making I might be involved in.

Thao: I feel exactly the same way Mia does. With all the experiences I’ve had, I feel like no matter where I transfer to or what happens next, I’ll be OK. I’ll find a community of people who will take me in and, if not, I’ll find others to build it with. Right now I’m doing work with renters’ rights in San Jose and I’m learning a lot from that. I’m getting interested in going to law school and being an attorney for the people and doing community organizing.

Arjun: This experience at DeAnza is the foundation of my life. The relationships with the people in the Certificate Program and the work I’ve done in the community have given me a huge sense of love for the people around me, the place that I live in, and the work that we all do together.  In one of the Certificate classes – the Geographies of Identity taught by Cassandra Blume – we went around South Bay neighborhoods, took pictures, look at the history, interviewed neighbors. That gave me a sense of stewardship toward where I live and a better sense of why things are the way they are here and why I need to keep fighting here.  I came from Portland and up until this program, I hadn’t felt attached to the place I live.  Now I know this is what I love, these are the people I love, and I want to stay here. I plan to transfer to UC Davis and major in Environmental Policy and Economics Systems. Then plan to come back and work in city or county government – I want to help structure this city in ways that are healthy, safe, and just.






[1] The Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action (VIDA), formerly the Institute for Community and Civic Engagement

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