Women’s Studies has only been a major at CSUDH for one year, but its first four graduates are already earning their degrees this spring. As Associate Professor and Coordinator of Women’s Studies Jenn Brandt says, “We’re so excited. To have all of these wonderful students, in a pandemic, not only surviving but thriving, has exceeded my expectations! I know they’re going to go on and make the university very proud.”
The four women who make up Women’s Studies’ first graduating cohort have each taken their own unique path to their degree. “This group is so representative of the diversity that we have in the major,” says Brandt. “They’re all coming from different backgrounds and going off to do different things.”
Raquel Serrano’s road to a degree might have been the most winding. The single mother and former foster child spent her teenage years in and out of jail. “I went through hell,” she says. “I was really impacted by certain systems—judicial systems, children’s services, probation. I had been experiencing institutionalization and systems of oppression that I didn’t even know about. I thought I was a bad person and just not right.”
A life skills class taken during her final jail stint helped turn Serrano’s life around. She ended up getting a job with the counseling center that had been providing her services, and discovered women’s studies courses while attending community college. When she transferred, Serrano met with Brandt, who convinced her to try out a few courses at CSUDH.
“She was really helpful on my journey,” says Serrano. “I declared my major as Women’s Studies and I have never looked back. I hate to sound corny, but this is really like a home to me. I’m around people who see things that I see—systems of oppression, racism, sexism, xenophobia—and the learning never ends. I love it here.”
Serrano has accepted a fully funded scholarship to the University of South Florida, where she will be pursuing a master’s degree, with an eye towards becoming a women’s studies professor herself. She says that her time in the Women’s Studies Program has made all the difference. “I was pushed to meet my potential. Now I know I can do anything. CSUDH has really prepared me to exercise my intellect—always thinking deeper and critically thinking. At first I was just pretending, and now I’m really doing it!” she laughs.
Tiffany Castro came to CSUDH straight out of high school, and is graduating as a double major in Women’s Studies and Sociology. She added Women’s Studies as a minor when she needed to pick up some units. After taking a few courses, “I fell in love with Women’s Studies,” she says.
“It’s very hard to turn a classroom into a community,” says Castro, “and that’s something the program has been able to do successfully. Although our stories or life experiences may not be the same, there are some things that Raquel can talk about that I can relate to. It’s about no longer feeling alienated. We have a shared common space to be comfortable in. That’s something that I appreciate so much from the program.”
Castro’s hard work has earned her a partial scholarship to the University of Southern California’s (USC) Master of Education program, where she will be working toward a degree in post-secondary administration and student affairs.
“I’m really proud. I remember being a young girl and driving past USC with my dad. I’d say, ‘Imagine if I could go there,’ and my dad would say that the tuition would end us. I would always joke around about it, but I never thought it would be a reality. I guess I joked about it so much that the universe decided to give it to me!” she says.
Castro currently works in the EOP office at West Los Angeles College, and would like to eventually become a full-time community college administrator. “I like the impact community colleges have on students,” she says, “helping prepare them and propel them to continue their education. I want to be able to provide holistic services to students and hopefully be a part of implementing policies in the future, once I have my degree.”
When Andrea Casillas transferred to CSUDH from Pasadena City College, she was unsure of the path she wanted to take. She was leaning toward art, but then her partner gave her “We Should All Be Feminists,” a book by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Reading the book, “It felt like I finally had the words to express what I was going through, and it felt like a relief to know that someone else is going through similar experiences,” says Casillas. “It got me thinking that maybe something isn’t wrong with me—maybe there’s something wrong with society and the way it functions, with all these unrealistic expectations. That’s why I started taking my first women’s studies classes.”
Casillas has never regretted her decision to major in Women’s Studies. “It’s been a place where I’m able to relate to other women. I get to read about authors who are just like me, who come from a similar background, who identify as women of color. It’s really inspiring to see women like that speak out and try to make the lives better for themselves and those around them.”
She would like to make her own mark on the world through literature, and plans to continue her education with art and writing courses. “I’d like to one day be an author of my own books, with my own illustrations,” she says, “It’s a step-by-step goal, and I feel that Women’s Studies has given me that confidence. It’s given me a space where I’m able to fail and learn from my mistakes.”
For Jessica Myers, CSUDH has given her a chance to complete what she started over a decade ago. In the 2000s, she attended community college and then transferred to CSU Long Beach, where she started work on a women’s studies degree. Family issues ended up causing her to drop out of school before completing it, however.
While working as a hairstylist, Myers began to hear good things about CSUDH from her clients. “They said it was a great option because there’s not as much competition for classes, they loved their professors, and they loved the people that went there,” says Myers. “I wanted to finish my degree so that I could move on to grad school for therapy and counseling, so I applied.”
Myers has made the most of her time at CSUDH, and has completed her degree requirements in just a year. In the fall, she will start work toward a master’s degree at Pacifica Graduate Institute, a school that specializes in psychology and counseling.
“My goal is to become a counselor or a therapist,” says Myers. “I want to be able to treat and speak with people who really need it. I’m not sure exactly the route I’m going to take, but my focus would be mainly women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.”
Myers is glad she decided to finish her degree at CSUDH. “This has been such a fulfilling year, as far as my classes and the content,” she says. “I’ve really been challenged here, and all the professors have been amazing. It’s really sharpened my skills, in terms of everything from how to write for grad school to how to manage my time.”
All four women are graduating with honors in the department, and Brandt expects them all to continue to shine. “We’re just so thrilled and so proud. We hope that they come back and they share their stories and stay a part of the community. I’m really hoping that this is a lifelong home for them,” she says. “Even when you graduate, you are a women’s studies major at DH for life, and you’re always welcome here.”