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Embracing Community as Part of IdentityUti

Embracing Community as Part of Identity

Arcos' research connects with marginalized communities

Headshot of Karen Arcos smiling. She is smiling and Aldrich Park is in the background.

How has your time at UCI been?

The most accurate way to describe it is: it’s been a whirlwind. Being a graduate student here has been rewarding in some areas like science outreach and challenging in others, such as developing a research argument. What once was a challenge is slowly becoming rewarding as I improve on things. 

It’s a learning experience in terms of adapting to the caliber of professionals around you to no longer be the consumer, but the producer of knowledge. This transition is an evolving process for me, so I would definitely say my time here has been humbling. The amount of independence we have as graduate students is great in some ways, but it is a constant challenge to find harmony and set limits to what your priorities are compared to what others expect from you.

Why did you choose to pursue the Emphasis in Chicano/Latino studies in conjunction with your research?

I earned a minor in Spanish as an undergraduate because I wanted to have something on paper to show my ethnicity in a positive light. I wanted to continue that positivity here at UCI, and since I am not studying Spanish nor Latin-American Studies, I chose to pursue the Emphasis in Chicano/Latino studies.

Not only did I choose to pursue this emphasis for my identity, but also in a sense to legitimize the type of research I would like to conduct. I started out doing research with people who are blind and sighted, since I also identify as someone who is blind, but I also wanted to include people from the Chicanx/Latinx community. Doing the emphasis allows me to include this community in my research specifically because one of the requirements is to have a part of your dissertation focus on a research area of interest to the Chicanx/Latinx community. 

I also pursued this emphasis for the sense of community that comes from this department. Some departments are more diverse than others, and the Chicano/Latino Studies department provides different enriching perspectives from professors and other students. I may have never encountered these if not for the emphasis. Further, it is extremely beneficial to learn and grow from faculty who understand the experiences of underrepresented minority students because they, too, are underrepresented. For instance, it's very satisfying to speak Spanish with someone without catching myself and reverting to English. Thanks to the emphasis, I also identified a really supportive outside member for my dissertation committees—something other students may struggle with. Meeting other graduate students from different departments who are pursuing the emphasis is also motivating. Essentially, this emphasis has given me more time and the chance to interact with this population in an academic settings when I otherwise may not have while earning my degree.

What does the Emphasis in Chicano/Latino studies mean to you being a student here at UCI?

This emphasis allows me to study both my identities within the disability community and the Chicanx/Latinx community. Further, it gives an answer to why I am studying the Chicanx/Latinx population and legitimizes it for my dissertation. 

It means having a wider community and being physically rewarded since the department allocates time to recognize students' progress and efforts. It also means being informed of professional development and career opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of. I am able to hear about other projects happening on campus and other students’ research, as well as learn and take value in other research methods. 

Further, it means a lot to me when I receive emails about the research happening in the Department of Chicano/Latino studies being broadcasted in the news, since I seldom see that same representation in my home department. Seeing the department being highlighted reassures me that what I am doing does matter. Not only do faculty publish in peer reviewed journals, but they also communicate their research to a broader audience is also encouraging. This in turn allows the findings to be more applied in people’s current lifestyles.

How has this emphasis helped you in your research and studies?

The Department of Chicano/Latino Studies puts on many helpful events and workshops throughout the year, such as workshops on mentoring and on pedagogical strategies. I also have taken required courses with Professors that I otherwise would have never met if not for the emphasis. Like I said before, it has been very beneficial in terms of having these faculty to relate to and meeting other students at UCI interested in similar topics even if we’re not in the same program.

What would you like other students and faculty to know about the emphasis?

For faculty, I ask you to keep an open mind and learn from your students. Think about what the student may be learning or how they may be benefiting from this emphasis, rather than question why they are pursuing it. Don’t be doubtful of them, because it is an opportunity to learn how much a marginalized group can contribute to general knowledge. There are many non-research-based stereotypes that the media portrays, and thanks to pursuing this emphasis, these have become more apparent to me.

For interested students, the biggest take away message I can give is to pursue the emphasis no matter what. If you have an inkling to earn it, then look into it. The professors who are in this department are open to speaking with students, so please reach out to them. They cover a broad range of fields, so if you’re in political science, psychology, criminology, gender studies, sociology, or others, don’t hesitate to look into it. 

If you do decide to pursue it, remember to stick with it and enjoy the journey. It may be extra course work, and you may get questions as to why you are pursuing it. Do not allow that push back to discourage you because it's absolutely worth it. It is worth it in terms of marketability for a career, what you learn, and beyond.

About the Graduate Emphasis in Chicano/Latino Studies

The emphasis in Chicano/Latino Studies is available in conjunction with all Ph.D. programs offered at UC Irvine.  As a supplementary program of study, it provides substantive, theoretical, and methodological training in Chicano/Latino Studies.  Additional coursework allows you to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of Chicano/Latino issues to further your research program and be better prepared to engage with diverse communities. 

Please click here for more information.