Jesuit Education in Action
An Interview with Maria Muñoz Yepez, Community Development Fellow
What was your first experience with the Ignatian Center?
My first experience with the Ignatian Center was when I went on an immersion trip to the Arizona Border during the 2016 spring break. I’ve since been on two additional immersion trips: El Salvador during the 2017 spring break and East LA during the 2018 spring break.
How did that first experience affect you?
The trip sparked my interest in working more with the greater community. I realized that I was passionate about social justice and wanted to support the work being done by people around the country for immigration. Upon my return, I assisted with the completion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) packets. We were hopeful that DAPA would be approved, so we were helping parents whose children are US citizens gather all the necessary documents to be prepared for the decision.
Since then, I have continued to find ways to support undocumented people. Currently, I am part of the Undocumented Students and Allies Association (USAA) on campus. Along with some faculty and staff members, the club has created a fund in honor of the patron saint of immigrants, Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, to support the needs of immigrant students at Santa Clara University. In line with SCU's mission to serve the most disadvantaged of our community members, this fund helps to ensure that these students, who face some of the most challenging educational paths, have the opportunity to succeed at SCU.
To donate to the Cabrini Fund, visit the SCU Giving Page and enter "Cabrini Fund" in the Special Instructions/Designations section.
What other ICJE programs have you participated in?
After that first immersion trip, I learned that there was more to the Ignatian Center. As a Psychology major and Urban Education minor, I took several courses that required an Experiential Learning for Social Justice (ELSJ) placement and signed up for those through the Ignatian Center's Arrupe Weekly Engagement. My sophomore year, I took one ELSJ course each quarter and really enjoyed seeing my learning come to life. At the end of my sophomore year, I applied for the Community Development Fellowship and am now a fellow at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, where I assist the college and academic counselors. In this role, I have been able to work with students and develop many new skills.
How have those experiences affected you, personally?
I have come to realize that I want to have a career where I am interacting with community members. I want to learn more about community development and how community development here, in the US, is different from abroad. My Julian Street Inn (JSI) placement this past quarter helped me realized that I still want to pursue clinical psychology, but I want to bring in a community development perspective too. I recently came across some Clinical-Community psychology PhD programs that I am looking into, as it combines two areas of psychology that I have enjoyed and now know complement one another.
What has been your experience as a Community Development Fellow?
I realized that I enjoy working with high school students. They are incredible students and I am happy to have been able to see them go through their college application process. As a first generation student, I am thankful for having had the opportunity to share my experiences and resources with these students because I remember being in their shoes three years ago. I know how stressful and emotional the whole process can be.
There is so much I have learned from the staff at Cristo Rey. All of them have so much energy and are so passionate about the work they do. Seeing students and staff members work hard at Cristo Rey has given me more energy and motivation to continue my work at SCU and continue my journey to becoming a psychologist. I am grateful to be part of an environment that is welcoming and encouraging and where everyone’s gifts are accepted and valued. Though my experience has made me realized I do not want to be an academic counselor, it has showed me that I want to work with youth, but in a non-school setting.
You recently received the Jean Donovan Fellowship - what will you be doing for that?
I applied to the Jean Donovan Fellowship because I want to learn how community development is different in other countries. The Jean Donovan Fellowship allows students to propose a project that involves community-based learning and it is funded and supported by the Ignatian Center. I think this a wonderful opportunity as my experience will be something that I helped to create.
I will be in Quito, Ecuador for 6 weeks (I leave on June 16) and will be focusing on Community Development. I am not entirely sure what my role will be there, as my responsibilities will be explained at the on-site orientation. International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) practices a bottom-up approach, which is used in community-based research. What this means is that the community plays a critical role in where IVHQ participants are stationed. This is why I chose to work with this organization. The community knows where it needs the most support and will place us where we can be of the most help.
This will be my first solo international experience, so I am nervous and excited to enter a new community and learn from them, while also sharing my gifts. The support and pre-departure meetings have helped me understand how to enter and treasure that new community that I have the privilege to experience.
Regarding your recent immersion trip to East Los Angeles - did it meet your expectations or were you surprised by any part of it?
This was my third and, most likely, my last immersion trip at SCU. Every time I go on an immersion, I do not have any expectations. Instead, I bring with me an open mind and open heart to embrace everything that I will live while I am in the community. I am grateful to all the community leaders and community members who shared with us the history and story of each respective community. All the immersions are unique and vary year-to-year because of so many factors, including the people that go on these immersions. I enjoyed that we had home stays for the entirety of the week. My host mom was an incredible woman who, despite all the adversities she has experienced, has so much enthusiasm, energy, and motivation. I thank her for opening her doors to me and sharing some of her lived experiences.
Unlike previous immersions, I was not devastated to return to SCU. Instead, I was thrilled to return and continue the work that I do with on-campus and off-campus activities. I am certain that I will return to East LA, specifically Dolores Mission, and visit my host mother.
What was the most impactful part of that trip for you personally?
Like my fellowship, the immersion trip is another testament that communities are of essence in my life. Because our trip fell on Holy Week, we were able to attend the services offered by the Dolores Mission church. Of all the services, the washing of the feet mass was the most memorable. In that space, my host-stay group and I were able to wash the feet of our host mom. I recall this event so vividly because it gave us the opportunity to thank her and massage her feet, feet that had walked miles and miles to cross two borders with her five young children as a young widow seeking a better life for her family.
How do you plan to use your experiences with the Ignatian Center in your future?
Following a gap year, I plan to apply to several clinical-community psychology PhD programs. I want to work in communities that are predominantly low-income, and where access to mental health services is either non-existent or unaffordable. I understand that there is a stigma that follows mental health services, and it is especially evident in communities of color. I hope to continue to be an advocate for mental health services, and to spread awareness of the importance of seeking psychological services.
During my gap year, I hope to acquire more skills and experience in the mental health field to be a competitive applicant for PhD programs. I also chose to take this time to process my four years in college and to continue to learn about communities of color in order to be a more culturally aware individual. This is vital to my future career because I cannot serve clients who come from different cultures without developing an understanding and appreciation of those cultures in the first place.
My involvement with the Ignatian Center has taught me to be open to new experiences, to seek opportunities to educate myself about cultural and global differences, to grow through my increased awareness of these differences, and in the process, to learn about myself.