Leading the Way
Anthropology Junior Ximena Chavez Reyes Makes Most of First-Gen Opportunities—For Herself and Others
Written 9.10.19 by Amanda Castro-Crist
Ximena Chavez Reyes of San Antonio is double-majoring in anthropology in the College of Arts & Sciences and advertising in the College of Media & Communication, and minoring in Spanish. Now in her junior year, she's sharing highlights of her experiences as a nontraditional, first-generation and international student.
First-generation college students have parents or guardians who have not received a bachelor's degree, while nontraditional students may have taken a few years off between high school and college, may be older and may have other responsibilities in addition to their academics, like full-time employment and a family to support. These students are served through various on-campus programs and initiatives, including those within the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DDEI).
We sat down with Chavez to learn more about her and her experience at Texas Tech.
What types of activities have you been involved in during your time at Texas Tech?
Chavez said being active in the first-year program in First Generation Transition & Mentoring Programs (FGTMP) led her to some of the best friends she has made in college and also allowed her to become engaged with local organizations.
"Through this program, I was given opportunities to network, develop academically and professionally and give back to my community," Chavez said. "We had volunteer opportunities at South Plains Food Bank, Lubbock Impact and Ronald McDonald House, to name a few."
Chavez said after her first year, she also had the privilege of working as a mentor and later a peer coach.
"In this role, I worked closely with first-year students to ensure they had a comfortable social and academic transition into college," she said. "My favorite activities were the socials because they allowed me to interact with my mentees in a way where they could know I wasn't just a mentor or a peer coach, but also a friend. Socials also played a vital role in the growth of the first-generation community at Texas Tech."
Being a part of FGTMP also gave Chavez the opportunity to work with Jade Silva Tovar, senior director in DDEI; Arthur Valiant, then-director of FGTMP; and her peers on a presentation for high school students for the annual "I am First-Gen" Summit.
How do you personally relate to your majors and/or the additional activities you have participated in at Texas Tech?
Chavez said that within her major of anthropology, she enjoys the subfield of cultural anthropology because it helps raise awareness about cultures, people and social issues, among other things.
"I have created research projects for classes highlighting topics like eco-tourism in Peru and first-generation college students at Texas Tech," Chavez said. "I try to develop my work through an anthropological lens because I believe it helps me develop my ideas and maintain a non-biased approach.
"I also have done some work in the development stage of the Student Intersectional Leadership Council in which several talented students have put their efforts together to create a council to increase advocacy and awareness about intersectionality within all groups on campus. With this group, I have been able to collaborate with my fellow students and generate important questions on how we can reach all groups at Texas Tech."
What motivates you to continue the work you're doing at the university?
Chavez said she wants to use her time at Texas Tech to create a path for herself that she then can use to impact others through her work.
"By 'impact,' I mean to reach, motivate, empower and inform people," Chavez said. "I want to continue to work hard so I can show younger generations that someone who looks like them, talks like them or even comes from the same background, can achieve anything and they can, too."
She said her family also is a huge motivator for her.
"I want to one day repay my family for all of the sacrifices they've had to make for me to be where I am today," Chavez said.
As Texas Tech approaches its 100th year, with a community that is its most diverse ever, what impact do you think you and your fellow students can have in regard to creating a campus environment that reflects diversity, equity and inclusion?
Chavez said it is important for students to stay informed about current issues and points of view, even if they don't agree with them.
"Students are the greatest agents of change at the university," Chavez said. "The only way to make progress is to think critically about how to better address views that oppose ours, and the only way to do that is to be informed. As students, we have the power to make great changes in all levels, whether it be in the classroom, in organizations or through work within the university, among other ways.
"Through our actions, we can foster a campus climate that is even more welcoming and supportive of everyone. By advocating for our peers now, we can show future students that this is a place where they will be advocated for. It is one thing to say we want a more diverse, inclusive campus and another to actually put words to action. The goal is to have everyone involved in some way because even the smallest actions can have a big impact."
Can you tell us of a faculty or staff member who made an impact on your life and your work?
Chavez said she credits two former staff members with making the greatest impact on her during her time at Texas Tech. She said they demonstrated their passion for students time and time again, and supported her through every step in college.
"Patrick Byrne, who served as the section coordinator for first-generation programs, was a grounding force for me when I was troubled by all of the challenges that college brought within these past two years, like making friends or feeling unsure about where I fit in my academic life," Chavez said. "He taught me to be a critical thinker and lived by the quote 'Action without reflection is wasted action.' This allowed me to see that the bigger picture of my reason for being in college is not just to help my family in the future, but also for me and my development as a person and a scholar."
Valiant, former director of FGTMP, also has been instrumental to her success.
"He motivated me to do things that I would be too nervous to do," Chavez said. "This was because of his dedication and attention to students. He wholeheartedly trusted and believed in my abilities, so he always involved me in projects within the program. He has taught me to always keep my head up because it's not about how I fall but about how I pick myself back up and keep going when things get tough."
Diversity & Inclusion at Texas Tech
In 1923, Texas Tech University welcomed its first class of 914 students. Since then, the university has grown to include more than 40,000 people who come from their hometowns around the world to teach, learn and work at Texas Tech.
In 2019, the university achieved official designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), an effort of the entire university community serving the needs of its diverse campus. The HSI designation makes Texas Tech eligible for up to $10 million in additional funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support the enhancement of educational opportunities for all students.
As the Texas Tech community celebrates this achievement, students, faculty and staff are taking a moment to reflect not just on their own time in Raiderland, but to also celebrate those who have worked to make Texas Tech a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.