“We are not going to show up on the syllabus. We always have to interrupt and tell our stories.”
Rachel Jackson’s passionate voice could be heard over the Starbucks noise as she explains how modern political theory can intersect with her Latina identity. Having majored in Politics and minored in Spanish, the knowledge that she absorbed in those college classrooms has shaped who she is and how she perceives the world around her.
After Jackson graduated from her local high school with an International Baccalaureate diploma, she was encouraged by her older sister to attend Pomona College, a top liberal arts college in California. Initially unsure of how to navigate in her new environment, the El Paso native struggled in her first year of college.
“In my first year [of Pomona] I was not doing well, I didn’t know what I liked, I was in a bad relationship…I almost transferred,” Jackson recalls.
Jackson is not afraid to admit that she struggled in her freshmen year. With the pressure of trying to find peers to connect with and of adjusting to the college environment and her classes, she began to feel isolated. By talking to the college’s psychologist, Jackson began recuperating from the stress and troubles that affected her. But what really made a significant impact on her was one of her politics classes. She had just finished writing a paper over Calvinism when her professor came to her, impressed by Jackson’s writing skills. She received her first A of the year from that paper and was shocked by both the grade and her professor’s remarks. Telling Jackson that she has an ability to talk intelligently about social contract theory, Jackson realized that this was an avenue to pursue.
Over the course of her college years, Jackson became involved in a variety of different groups and organizations that helped develop her ideas as a student and individual.
Jackson joined the Latino student organizations very early on in her college career, but found that machismo was present in some of these groups. Instead of being discouraged, she ended up joining black student organizations that allowed her to find the discussions and peers that she sought. Through these organization and others, Jackson was able to develop as an intellectual and individual.
Displaying a strong sense of self-awareness and of the society around her, she realized how the El Paso environment was different from Claremont’s. Although Jackson knew that the predominantly Mexican population in El Paso were “similar, but not really” to her as a Columbian, it didn’t bother her. However, she underwent a culture shock in California since the environment was vastly different from her hometown.
She soon realized that for many people, Latinos, regardless of ethnicity, were viewed as solely blue-collared workers. The majority of Latinos in Pomona seemed to be custodian or dining hall workers and this was something that Jackson noted. Driven by what she saw around her, she became involved in projects for marginalized communities.
Under Pomona’s Draper Center for Community Partnership, she was the program coordinator where she was able to reach out to communities the way she wanted to. The first project she did was English as Second Language, a program that paired non-English speaking workers within the university to students that volunteered to help. Another task that Jackson undertook was LEGS (Leadership Engagement in Gender and Sexuality), a project that allowed Pomona’s Career Center to work with a local high school’s Gay and Straight Alliance Club. This project would provide support to those local high school students that wanted to explore any questions they had.
Jackson became involved in the Student Government her senior year where she was elected as president of Senate. The committee changed the conversation on campus by trying to have an ethnic studies class to be a requirement for all incoming Pomona students. Exposing students to a different perspective about others was something that Jackson believes to be important.
With the realization of the world’s injustices in high school through literature and poems, and the example from her family of helping others, Jackson became driven to help those around her. Jackson states that coming from an immigrant family there is this sense that you have to go to college to achieve the American Dream, but Pomona made her “realize there are other options.” Driven to make a difference, she is now looking for a job that involves legal work to see if she would like law school.