My journey at Eastern Kentucky University started more than 10 years ago after I graduated with my PhD in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Purdue University. I visited the EKU campus in March of 2007 for a job interview, and I fell in love with the beautiful campus.
Spring has always brought me a sense of new life, beginnings and opportunities. While walking on my campus tour, I imagined teaching at the Ravine and enjoying the new sounds of Spring. The space was perfect for hosting cultural activities where students would learn a new language and aspects of the diverse cultures of the Spanish-speaking world.
Through community, language, dances, songs and mutual understanding, I would be fulfilling my dream. What I did not realize was that my aspirations then were only part of my dream and the impact I would have on EKU and local communities.
Since my appointment at EKU, the Department of Languages, Cultures and Humanities has become my second home, and my colleagues were my new Kentucky Familia. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be part of this department where I have not just colleagues, but close friends that I consider family. This support system has been essential to my career as a Latina professor teaching at a primarily white institution.
My experience as a Latina faculty has had challenging moments. Women of color are underrepresented in higher education and many have not achieved equity in promotion or pay. I believe colleges and universities, in particular, EKU need to increase the representation of administrators, faculty, and staff of color.
Because of the challenges that exist, I knew that I wanted to be a leader and help students create a familia like the one I had found here. For me, finding that familia requires experiences and spaces. As part of my involvement on campus, I have been able to participate in several key endeavors and conversations about diversity initiatives.
I serve on the EKU Diversity Committee, which allows me to be at the forefront of advocacy regarding diversity and inclusion. I am a co-founder of the Latino Student Association, the Camino to Success camp, and serve as the Chief Diversity Officer for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. I have played an instrumental role in establishing the Bobby Verdugo y Yoli Rios Bilingual Peer Mentor and Tutoring Center to provide a space for our students to share their culture and experiences wth the EKU community.
Additionally, I serve as a mentor for the Freshman Academy for Diverse Students. More than providing lessons in the classroom, my colleagues and I have been visible on campus with our many events for Latino Heritage Month, College Fairs, and other student-centered events. These efforts have paid off as the number of Latino students has doubled in the last six years!
I have always been a committed advocate for equity among underrepresented populations both on EKU’s campus and in the community. My efforts and collaboration with others have resulted in new entrusted roles and responsibilities such as representing EKU in the Council on Postsecondary Education Academic Leadership Development Institute, where I expanded my knowledge in areas of student affairs, diversity and international education. I was nominated for the Distinguished Educational Leader (DEL) Award sponsored by the Student Government Association, and won the 2018 Faculty Leadership Award.
My passion for serving motivates me to learn how to better provide services and support for underrepresented students and faculty at institutions of higher education. Recognition from students, colleagues and administrators not only validates my efforts, but it shows other women, minorities, people of color or anyone who feels like they are not seen, that we matter and that we make positive impacts that lead to meaningful change.
I look forward to expanding my network in order to learn from other leaders from around the state to support students to enroll and graduate from college. My journey at EKU has had its bumps along the way, but anytime I felt burnt out or defeated, I remembered that good leaders do not give up. Instead, they find the resources, the courage and the stamina to keep going. I want underrepresented students to see that someone who looks like them is successful and they can be too. That is what inspires me to continue my journey.
Dr. Socorro Zaragoza is an associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Languages Cultures and Humanities at Eastern Kentucky University. Dr. Zaragoza teaches all levels of Spanish language as well as Latin American Literature and culture classes. She earned a BA in Foreign Language Education from the Universidad de Colima in Mexico and her master’s and Ph.D. from Purdue University with a focus on Spanish and Latin American Studies. She is a longtime advocate of equity for diverse groups stemming from her scholarship on Afro-Hispanic Culture and Literature as well as her commitment to representing minorities both on EKU’s campus and in the community.