Every day, Alejandrina Guzman captures a moment on her digital camera. She fell in love with photography back in middle school and has been immortalizing memories ever since.
“I’m a very visual person,” Guzman says. “When I look at a picture, I can recall exactly what happened on that particular day. I cherish these memories, even irrelevant moments like looking outside the window.”
She’s especially fond of a photo of more than 50 students gathered together chanting, “I am a powerhouse!” The snapshot was taken at the 2017 “First-Gen Kickoff,” where incoming first-generation students came together to learn how to harness their resources to thrive during their four years on campus. Guzman says she wanted to create this event since she arrived on the Forty Acres five years go.
The picture of that moment not only captured the emotion of the event, but it reminds Guzman of who she is as a first-generation student and the people who helped her get to where she is today. Now as the university’s first Latina, differently-abled student body president, she aims to empower more students to advocate for themselves and others.
Guzman, who stands at 2’8,” was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a skeletal disorder that affects bone development and growth. Born with scoliosis, a cleft palette and a club foot (the inward twisting of the foot), doctors told her parents that she would only live for a day. That day stretched into a week and later a month. Growing up in a first-generation immigrant family from Azle, Texas, she was taught from a very young age how to overcome adversity with empathy and perseverance.
“If I said as a child, ‘I can’t do it,’ my father would say, ‘you can’t or you don’t want to?’ Then I’d say, ‘I guess I don’t want to.’ So I would have to figure it out,” she says.
When Guzman first arrived on campus, she was immediately struck by its size. She knew she had to find her place by becoming involved in student activities. After discovering the many opportunities within the Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) to reconnect with her roots, she got started in her student advocacy work in Latino Community Affairs.
“It was during this time when I started to realize my identity as a Latina,” Guzman says. “We all come from different backgrounds and perspectives and stories and obstacles, but we are not alone and there are a lot of people cheering us on.”
She credits the MEC for much of her personal growth during this time.
“If it wasn’t for the MEC, I would not have really known or found myself,” she says. “We push each other and are able to work together in a way that is not just talk, but action-oriented,” she says.
As president of UT Student Government, Guzman sums up her term in three words: challenging, rewarding and intense. She is especially proud of her executive team members for their willingness to be open-minded and vulnerable. The majority of members are students of color—a rarity in student government.
Her greatest challenge is to be a voice for the many diverse perspectives of the student body.
“Sometimes I go into meetings and am the only person of color or the only woman, and it hits me every single time all that I represent.”
Micky Wolf, student body vice president and Plan II and business honors junior, says he’s most impressed with Guzman’s ability to inspire and empower her fellow students, having already shown that UT Student Government is an effective platform for inciting change on campus.
“There are a lot of student advocates who haven’t always used student government as a tool for advocacy because they don’t see it as a place that holds weight and power,” Wolf says. “But this year, be it students at the MEC, GSC [Gender and Sexuality Center] or Jewish students at Hillel, they have learned that is not true at all.”
As Guzman looks toward the future, she hopes to find a career where she can uplift others as her parents, peers and mentors have done for her.
“I like seeing development in people and building empathy and empowering others,” she says. “Letting them [students] know that I’ll be right there to help or, if not, connect them with someone who can.”
Photo courtesy of the Alejandrina Guzman and Mickey Wolf Campaign