Graduating Hawkeye reflects on journey toward embracing first-gen, Latinx identities

University of Iowa senior Alexia Sánchez reflects on her experience navigating campus and embracing her identities as a Latinx and first-generation Hawkeye.

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Contributed/Alexia Sánchez

Lauren White, News Reporter


Latina. First-generation. Hawkeye. In her four years pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa, senior Alexia Sánchez has learned to accept and embrace her different identities.

Sánchez will graduate with majors in political science and social justice, and minors in Latinx studies and philosophy. She said she came to the UI as an open major with no idea what she wanted to do.

“As a first-generation student, I never expected to get more than one degree, but the more time I invested in my education, the more I realized what I was capable of,” Sánchez said.

In her time at the UI, Sánchez served in what is now Undergraduate Student Government for three years. In 2018, she directed the Homecoming Parade and ran for student-body president, making her the first Latina student in UI history to do either. Although she did not win the presidency, Sánchez said she hopes that one day a Latina can break the glass ceiling by doing so.

She spearheaded the creation of the Unidos Living Learning Community, a designated residence hall floor for Latinx students to be emerged in and educated on their culture while surrounded by people who share their Latinx identity. It will open to students in fall 2020.

“Gearing up toward my final year on campus, there were a lot of things I wanted to cross off my college bucket list before walking across the stage,” Sánchez said. “They were things I always had the mentality of completing, but unfortunately there were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do.”

RELATED: UI creates Latinx Living Learning Community to unite students

But there’s a lot the first-generation student did accomplish, said Gabriela Rivera, assistant director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Success at the Tippie College of Business. Rivera added that she has been asked to write letters of recommendation for Sánchez before, and that it’s not hard to write a letter of support for someone who has done so much for the university.

Rivera said Sánchez got involved in so many ways on campus, and it was great to know her personally and professionally.

“I’m excited that she’s taken the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to great experiences and it’s great that she can balance a lot in her busy schedule,” Rivera said.

Tippie Undergraduate Programs Associate Dean Ken Brown said Sánchez is generous and caring by nature, and that she was a blessing to have at the UI.

“At Iowa, Alexia has been a tireless champion for marginalized and at-risk students,” Brown said. “Her advocacy for first-generation and Latinx students, in particular, have resulted in lasting change to policies here on campus that will help thousands of students.”

Sánchez said she hopes to work in immigration, whether through a nonprofit or law career. To improve circumstances for American immigrants and immigrants around the world is a pursuit she’s been passionate about for many years.

She said she will continue to carry with her the advice she received to “remember her roots.” Sánchez said she recognizes that she experiences privileges which her family that came before her never had.

Patrick Dolan, an academic adviser for the social-justice major, said Sánchez has dedicated herself to combatting the oppressions associated with her identity and is open to hearing other perspectives when she’s in a diverse group.

Dolan said the social-justice program attracts students who want to make life better for people who have been marginalized, stigmatized, and put down. Sánchez is proof that those who take control of the opportunities they have can accomplish an enormous amount, he said, even as an undergraduate.

“I’ve been teaching at Iowa for 40 years,” Dolan said. “In my experience very, very few Iowa students have worked as hard, and have had as much success as Alexia. It makes me glad to be here.”

Sánchez said she is disappointed that she will miss out on the final farewells and moments of appreciation with the various campus community members who were part of her UI journey. She wanted to celebrate them, Sánchez said, just as they are celebrating her.

When Sánchez graduates, she said, it’s like her family is graduating with her. Therefore, she will most likely return next academic year to participate in an in-person commencement ceremony, in addition to participating in the spring 2020 virtual graduation.

“The symbolism of walking across the stage is very important,” Sánchez said. “I see it as though my family crossed the border so that I could cross the stage.”

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