‘Doubly Affirming’: COE Doctoral Student, Faculty Advisor Both Named to AAHHE Board

October 11, 2023
Marissa and Naomi
Marissa Vasquez (left) and Naomi Ramirez. Photo by Arturo E. Rivas.

She was still in graduate school at the time, but Marissa Vasquez vividly recalls attending her first American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) conference. And she particularly remembers what it meant to her.

“It nourished me as a Latina scholar,” says Vasquez, now an associate professor in postsecondary educational leadership at San Diego State University. “I remember standing in the hotel lobby and just being in awe of how many Latinx with doctoral degrees there were in one place.

“It was such a powerful moment that inspired me to want to continue being part of this organization.” 

The moment also inspired her to get others involved with AAHHE, the nation’s top association for Latinx higher ed faculty, administrators, students and professionals.

Years later, she recruited doctoral student advisee Naomi Ramirez to the fold, convincing her to present a paper at AAHHE’s 2021 conference. For Ramirez, the impact was palpable.

"I just felt like I was at home,” Ramirez recalls. “I knew I had to be involved somehow."

This fall, both mentor and mentee have found a new home within AAHHE: The Board of Directors.

Vasquez recently began serving a three-year term as a Faculty/Administrator Member-at-Large. The appointment is a continuation of her longstanding involvement with the organization, which named her a Graduate Student Fellow in 2014 and a Faculty Fellow in 2019. 

Ramirez was appointed to a two-year term as Graduate Student Member-at-Large. For the student in SDSU’s Joint Ph.D. Program in Education with Claremont Graduate University, it’s a moment of validation — one she hopes to pass on to others.

"I want to bring validation and visibility for students who are most left out of the conversation of what it means to be Hispanic or Latino,” said Ramirez, who grew up in San Diego with Mexican, Costa Rican and Jamaican heritage. “I'm referring to undocumented students, indigenous students and Afro-Latinos. We tend to privilege the Mestizo experience, the Mexican experience when we're talking about Latinos. 

“It's a lot more complicated, and I'm trying to help bring light to that.”

Bringing light to those on the margins has long been a focus of Ramirez’s scholarship. She holds master’s degrees in Latin American studies and anthropology, and she has extensively researched the experiences of migrants who have been deported, as well as those who never made it on their journeys.

As a doctoral student, she now explores her own experiences through autoethnography, with an eye on how introspection might help her empower her own students in the future. Ramirez lectures at multiple institutions, including SDSU, where she teaches classes on cultural competence and on border experiences, identities and cultures.

“As a scholar, Naomi pushes boundaries of qualitative inquiry and uses creative methodologies to contextualize and illuminate lived experiences and identities of marginalized communities,” Vasquez said. “She then transforms her research in the classroom by having students reflect and express themselves through creative outlets that foster self-empowerment. As someone who identifies with multiple intersectional identities, Naomi brings so much to the AAHHE Board and community. 

“I look forward to working alongside her in this role.” 

Ramirez is equally excited to serve with her advisor.

“They’re recognizing what I am potentially contributing, but they’re also recognizing the person that has guided me,” she said. “It's doubly affirming.”

Vasquez brings expertise in furthering the success of underrepresented college students to her board role. As associate director of SDSU's Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL), and a product of the community college system herself, she is eager to advance opportunities for community college students, leaders, faculty and staff.

“I also hope to bring AAHHE's annual convening to SDSU in the near future,” Vasquez said. “But most of all, I want to help foster a welcoming and inclusive community for others.”

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