Victoria Diaz /// Op-Ed contributor
Growing up, I wanted to escape. As the biracial daughter of divorced, immigrant parents growing up in Oakland, California, life was far from perfect. Because I performed well academically, I saw education as my way out.
By the time I got to high school, I’d attended several schools. One in particular, KIPP Bridge, helped me develop as a student and a person and it gave me the tools I needed to secure a full scholarship to a top boarding school. During my senior year, I reflected on the great opportunities I had been afforded, wondering why I’d had access to what so many others in my hometown did not. Was it me? Was it my parents? Was it luck? I returned home during my senior year to work at my middle school with the goal of understanding what unlocked these opportunities for me. As I led students in ELA classes and saw their glowing faces upon receiving their highest scores, my belief in every student’s ability to academically succeed was reinforced. I thought that the solution was one of teaching style.
At Lewis & Clark, I’ve done a lot of research on teaching styles. While studying the power of rhetorical and psychological influences, I found myself grappling with the deeply rooted ideologies, social realities and narratives that allow systemic oppression on tangible and subconscious levels. I thought about my own life: my oppression, my privilege, and my role in perpetuating an oppressive social reality.
Like anyone who cares about education, I’ve read criticisms of programs that work to eradicate inequality, including KIPP, the charter school I attended, and Teach for America, the organization that gave me some of my most influential teachers and that I hope to join myself. When I shared my concerns with my mom one afternoon, she left me with words that have been ringing in my head ever since: “If you let imperfections stop you, no change will be made. The most effective change comes from within.” With her words in mind, I submitted my application to TFA. Systemic inequality is larger than any single program. If I wait for a single solution, I am a part of the problem.
For me, joining this work is about being part of an inherently complicated solution. Everyday, as I filled out my application, the faces and voices of my past students and mentees were at the forefront of mind, as were the Teach For America teachers who made an impact in my own life. They drive me to be part of the movement to end educational inequity.
Years ago, all I wanted was to escape. Now, I know I need to go back to my community and fight the injustices that plague it. When we seek to escape or ignore injustice, we perpetuate systems of oppression. Disadvantaged areas are not places to flee – they are places in which we need to bring hope and optimism. I’m excited for the chance to do that with TFA.
Victoria Diaz is a senior at Lewis and Clark College double majoring in Rhetoric and Media Studies and Psychology.