News > Diversity Scholarship awarded to first-generation student passionate about social justice

Diversity Scholarship awarded to first-generation student passionate about social justice

Last year, Diana Salgado Huicochea sat in the library with a friend, frustrated and confused, struggling to understand her biology homework. She looked at the clock and realized if she didn’t leave soon, she’d be late for her next class. As she was packing up, she resigned herself to pulling an all-nighter, knowing that a full night of studying would be her best chance at figuring out the assignment.

Her friend didn’t seem as concerned, and when Salgado Huicochea asked why, she admitted that she was just going to call her mom, a high school biology teacher, and ask for help.

As Salgado Huicochea walked out of the library into the rainy Portland afternoon, she asked herself, “Who am I going to call?”

Salgado Huicochea, now a sophomore, works as a First Generation Student Ambassador and mentors other students whose parents do not have a college background. She was awarded the 2018 Diversity Scholarship of $1,010 for her work in Diversity and Inclusion Programs, Campus Ministry, the Moreau Center and the Student Academic Resource Center on Friday evening before the Diversity Dialogues keynote speaker Prisca Dorcas, founder of Latina Rebels, took the stage in Mago Hunt Recital Hall.

When she learned that she had been selected as the winner, she said she was overwhelmed with happiness.

“These conversations (about diversity and inclusion) bring liberation and a sense of comfortability to individuals who might feel isolated,” Salgado Huicochea said. “Diversity on a college campus begins by first admitting those people who have extraordinary circumstances. This could be not only inclusive to color, but also immigration status, ethnicity, race, disability, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and other unique perspectives that an individual can carry.”

Salgado Huicochea, 20, is a first-generation college student. Before her senior year of high school, when she came on a class visit to University of Portland, she had never even stepped foot on a college campus. But when she did, she said she fell in love.

UP became her dream school for many reasons, but one of them is that the campus is close to home. Salgado Huicochea lives about a 35-minute commute from The Bluff, at home with her mother and her younger brother, with whom she is very close. Although she lives at home, she said she doesn’t see them as much as she’d like.

“You might think that I see them every day because I live at home, but my mom actually works two jobs, and whenever I get home, she is either gone or she is sleeping,” Salgado Huicochea explained. “So we never see each other.”

When their schedules do match up, she loves when her mom cooks Mexican spaghetti. This traditional dish is composed of spaghetti noodles mixed with taco seasoning, salsa, sour cream and other toppings. Traditionally, beef is often cooked into this dish, but Salgado Huicochea, who is newly a vegetarian, now excludes it.

Salgado Huicochea’s family is of Mexican descent, and her experiences as a young woman of color have led her to develop a passion for social justice issues and prioritizing conversations about equity and justice on campus.

Her experiences since before she set foot on The Bluff have been greatly trial and error. She explained that although her mother is “endlessly supportive,” she lacks many of the practical experiences that could help guide her in the process.

Despite the many obstacles, Salgado Huicochea has managed to figure it all out. Her color-coded daily planner helps her stay focused and organized as she balances her campus involvement, her school work and the two days per week that she works as a tutor at her old high school.

When her first tour of UP ended in the financial aid office, Salgado Huicochea was confused and discouraged. She felt like attending UP was a far-fetched dream, and she was amazed when admissions counselors helped her make it a reality. 

“UP really showed me how what I thought was my weakness was really my strength, and how much diversity I bring to our campus,” Salgado Huicochea said.

The Diversity Scholarship was created last year by ASUP President Brandon Rivera in an effort to advance the conversation about diversity and inclusion on The Bluff. It’s in line with the five-year strategic plan President Fr. Mark Poorman announced last year called Vision 2020, which outlines specific goals for diversity and inclusion. This year, Rivera worked closely with Yuridia Hernandez Osorio, coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion Programs, to refine the application and ensure it reached more students.

“We want to make it as successful as it can be,” Hernandez Osorio said. “We looked at best practices, at how we can open up the scholarship to remove some of the barriers.”

Faculty and staff from all over campus were invited to anonymously nominate students who represent diversity and are actively furthering conversations of equity and justice. The students were contacted via Connie Ozyjowski, associate director of Development and Donor Engagement, and were invited to apply for the scholarship. 

Applications were evaluated anonymously by a selection committee made up of Eddie Contreras, director of Studies Abroad, Gwen Sandford, program manager for International Student Services, Casandra Esparza, admissions counselor, Bill Jenkins, director of Employee Relations and Staff Diversity in Human Resources, Laurie Laird, director of the Moreau Center, and Alyx Cardenas, a senior diversity coordinator. Hernandez Osorio and Rivera guided the committee but did not vote.

“Diversity and inclusion is important to who we are as a university,” said Matthew Daily, program manager for special populations and learning assistance in the Shepard Academic Resource Center. “We need to make things better in the future, and we need to look at what we have currently that is good and great, and that’s Diana.”

Hernandez Osorio explained that selecting a winner was difficult for the committee, but she believes it made the right decision, as Salgado Huicochea is “amazingly overqualified.”

It was only in December that Hernandez Osorio first met Salgado Huicochea, when Hernandez Osorio hired her as a diversity coordinator. At the time, neither of them knew Salgado Huicochea had won the scholarship. Although she is new to the team of diversity coordinators, Hernandez Osorio said that Salgado Huicochea has “jumped in full force.”

“She’s constantly thinking of ‘Who is not at the table?’ and ‘Who are we missing from the conversation?’ which is a really great quality to have as a diversity coordinator,” Hernandez Osorio said. “‘She has been really pushing her peers to think this way as well.”

Salgado Huicochea is also new in her position as First Generation Student Ambassador, a role the Shepard Academic Resource Center just created this year.

Even though she has only had this title for a few months, Daily said that she has been a leader within UP’s first-generation college student community since before her first day on The Bluff as a freshman.

“She came to the pre-orientation (program for first generation students) and then she came to every event that we offered, every opportunity with the first-generation community, she came. And was engaged and excited and present and energetic. She had a real presence about her.”

Salgado Huicochea explained that having the support of the first-generation community has been important to her flourishing on The Bluff. 

“Sometimes (first-generation students) see ourselves as ‘Oh, we don’t have all this social capital,’ that people talked about. But we have other types of capital. We have our capital from our family, which is endless support,” Salgado Huicochea said. “We have the capital of coming from a different perspective. We see college from a different perspective than other people who have that privilege of their parents having gone to college.”

For first-generation students, college is a lot of trial and error. But Salgado Huicochea has combatted this by getting involved with everything she is passionate about, and developing strong relationships with her mentors on campus. Her mentors in the Diversity and Inclusion Programs, the Moreau Center and the Shepard Academic Resource Center all echoed praises of her drive and natural leadership to The Beacon. 

Irene Routte, the Moreau Center program manager for service and justice, said that Salgado Huicochea is the embodiment of her favorite quote and mantra: “Justice must be practiced joyfully.”

“I’m always constantly impressed every single time I talk to her,” Routte said. “When Diana walks into a room you just feel this joy. And she just puts it into whatever she is doing.”

Routte explained that she believes Salgado Huicochea’s passion is contagious for other students — in a good way. Being a leader in so many different departments on campus has allowed her to break down barriers for students who may have not been as involved, inviting them to participate more on campus.

“One of the things that stands out about her is her ability to really authentically connect with people,” Routte said. “She makes whoever she interacts with feel like they are loved and they can do it.”

Salgado Huicochea has been involved with the Moreau Center since early in her freshman year. Last spring break, she traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border on the Border Immersion to learn more about the human rights issues involved in immigration. It was on this trip, only one year ago, that Salgado Huicochea met her best friend, senior education and Spanish major Molly Steiner.

“We always joke that it feels like we have known each other for a lot longer than a year,” Steiner said. “Diana is just honestly the most gentle, compassionate, thoughtful human on the face of this planet. I have never met anybody like her.”

Despite her very busy schedule, Salgado Huicochea makes time to have fun and celebrate life. Her Instagram bio reads: “Loving God, you are the factual joy of every human heart.” And her account is full of smiling, happy pictures of Salgado Huicochea adventuring with her loved ones.

Although it is sometimes hard for her and Steiner to connect due to Salgado Huicochea’s busy schedule and Steiner’s commitments with student teaching, Steiner said they make time.

Salgado Huicochea lives at home with her family, so she and Steiner often have sleepovers at Steiner’s off-campus house. Steiner said that they enjoy One Direction dance parties and chatting about their days in Spanish, Salgado Huicochea’s first language.

Although Steiner has known about Salgado Huicochea’s passion for social justice since they met on the Border Immersion, she said that her capacity to engage with tough issues has developed immensely in the past year.

“She is such a positive person that sometimes she would shy away from really hard subjects and it’s been really cool to see her embrace her justice side,” Steiner said. “It’s really beautiful to see her be able to discuss the hardship of other people.”

Routte explained that Salgado Huicochea's work for the Moreau Center, Diversity and Inclusion programs, Campus Ministry and the Shepard Academic Resource Center has exposed her to a variety of perspectives. And with each, her ability and passion for engaging with social justice has likely flourished, bringing her to where she is today.

Salgado Huicochea's resolve to fight for social justice goes hand in hand with her faith, which has lead her to her daily involvement with Campus Ministry. Her faith was developing long before she enrolled at UP — her grandmother began taking her to mass at St. Anne Catholic Church in Gresham when she was just nine years old.

“(When my grandmother moved away) I was not allowed to go by myself, but I finally convinced my mom and I would walk, maybe like a 10-minute walk,” Salgado Huicochea said. “During high school I began to ride my bike there and everyone knew that I was in church because they all recognized the bike.”

Now, she drives to church on the weekends, except for during the summer, when she still enjoys the familiar walk. On weekdays, she attends daily mass at noon in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher on campus, and was elected to serve on the Servant Leadership Team for Campus Ministry next year. Last year, she took part in a Campus Ministry pilgrimage to Molokai, Hawaii. 

Because of her involvement in so many areas of campus, it is easy to forget that Salgado Huicochea is also a student. The sophomore biology major started out on The Bluff on the pre-medical track, with aspirations to become a doctor. And although her passion for science is keeping her on that track, her career plans have evolved as she has gotten to know herself better. She has added education and theology minors and now hopes to become a teacher.

After she finishes her final exams, Salgado Huicochea is going on the Civil Rights Immersion with the Moreau Center, then directly to the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE), then to New Hampshire for the rest of the summer, where she will work as a teaching fellow for the Breakthrough Collaborative, an opportunity that Routte excitedly connected her with.

“Upon reflecting on what I wanted to do and volunteering, I came to the conclusion that I’m passionate about education, and not about the high expectations that people have for me. I guess in a way I was trying to fulfill those,” Salgado Huicochea explained.

She said she is particularly excited about the opportunity to discuss race and ethnicity in the context of higher education at the NCORE conference this summer.

“I don’t see many people of color here on campus and also I went to a public high school which was very diverse. And then coming up here... it’s really shocking. I don’t mind it because I firmly believe that we all bring diversity because our lifestyles are so different, so there are all types of diversity in everybody,” Salgado Huicochea said. “Everywhere in the world you’ll find diversity, that’s the real world. That’s why it is so important to acknowledge it and be open about it, and always continue the conversation.”

Photos by Annika Gordon.