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Prior to embarking on this journey, I did not believe that graduate school was for me or that I even belonged

in a graduate program. As a senior in college, I had so many unanswered questions about who I was, what I was being called to do, and how all of the experiences I had had throughout the past four years would help me gain clarity as to what would be my next step in this life. Ever the master of uncertainty avoidance, I worked tirelessly to ensure that before June of 2012, when I was scheduled to graduate, I would know what I would be doing for the next few years of my life.

As a first year in college, I wanted to be a screenplay writer. Writing hit blockbuster films and romantic comedies for the masses is what I envisioned my life to be. I wanted to bask in the limelight of Hollywood, flooded by the flashes of the paparazzi, and with my face plastered across every tabloid and fashion magazine in the world. Throughout my time as an undergraduate student, I became involved with Greek Life, residence life, student government, and leadership development. Although I felt most alive and most at home while working with my student affairs family, I did not understand that a profession in the field was possible. Little to the surprise of family, friends, and mentors, I was selected to serve as an early childhood education (ECE) teacher in Los Angeles through Teach for America and thus, the next two years of my life were vocationally and financially set. But as I began the process of enrolling in ECE courses to earn my ECE certificate, and as I began the trainings to prepare me as a corps member, a deep feeling of dissatisfaction, monotony, and unfulfillment set in. I yearned for something more exciting, something more aligned with my values of equity, leadership, and working towards positive social change. Mentors in student affairs began to notice my complacency with my decision to teach ECE and challenged me to explore other options. They wanted me to see beyond the security of a job and to, instead, work towards a deep calling that

was driving me to be the change I wanted to see in education and in my community. Their voices and stories led me to connect with people at Loyola University Chicago and to explore the possibility of applying to the higher education program. Through the genuine care and guidance of faculty members and staff within the Division of Student Development, I felt a sense of home, community, and family 2,000 miles across the country from my own.

Perhaps the most important content I have learned from the program is that which is` centered on social justice and how systems of power, privilege, and oppression work in tandem with one another to impact the work of social justice. As a student, I was forced to engage in critical and often uncomfortable conversations with peers about the various dimensions of my own personal identity and how systems of power, privilege, and oppression have influenced the ways in which I have come to conceptualize my sense of self and the ways in which I make meaning of the world around me. Through these interactions I have been able to create and articulate my own philosophy of social justice and its role in student affairs in higher education. Although I acknowledge it as my own philosophy, it has been largely derived from and articulated by the wise words and experiences of the faculty, colleagues, and students I have encountered throughout my time at Loyola. My philosophy is this: the work of social justice is to ensure that every single person in our society feels physically and psychologically safe and represented.

As a graduate assistant in the Division of Student Development, I witnessed how much disconnect there could be between the ideals of the work of social justice within the institution compared to what the reality of working towards social justice within the institution actually was. At first, this disconnect was so embedded into the ways in which I navigated the various

governance systems and relationships I had encountered within the institution. But as I became more aware of my own privilege as a student and young professional, and as I continued to solidify my aforementioned philosophy on social justice, I began to feel more comfortable with challenging the oppressive systems that I believed existed. I felt compelled to ask questions that most full-time staff members were afraid to ask for fear of being reprimanded or losing their jobs. I challenged the students I worked with to question their own experiences at the institution and to see how systems power, privilege, and oppression impacted their lives. I do not share this point to be magnanimous; rather I share this point to highlight my commitment to social justice and how important it is for me to hold some degree of congruence between what I value and believe to what my actions and reactions are within an institution.

I acknowledge that after two years of coursework and professional experience that I have a long ways to go and that there are other areas of development that I must continue to work on. But in spite of the work that has yet to be done, this program and my time as a graduate assistant working with exceptional colleagues and students have both helped me believe that I deserve a spot at the table that I have worked hard to be the scholar-practitioner that I am today. I struggled with being able to view myself as a competent individual, someone who could understand complex concepts and theories and putting them into practice. I doubted my abilities to conduct my own research, to add valuable knowledge to the field, and to use research as a means of empowering my people. Now, my only fear is thinking about where I will continue to look for inspiration and motivation to continue on with the grueling work that is social justice to better the experiences of the students I work with and the communities I am a part of.