Name: Nieves Vázquez
Major: Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and Psychology, BDP Certificate in Conflict Resolution & Peace Studies
Programs and activities: Student Worker, Gender & Sexuality Center; Student Member, Native American & Indigenous Collective, Multicultural Engagement Center; Latino Studies Program; Bridging Disciplines Program; Mentor, First-Year Interest Group; Service Director and Inclusion Director, Texas Orange Jackets; Intern, Barbara Harlow Undergraduate; Rapoport Center for Human Rights & Justice, Texas Law; DJ, KVRX 91.7 UT Austin Student Radio
Honors: Américo Paredes Endowed Scholarship, Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies
Since arriving at the UT Austin campus, Nieves Vázquez quickly found their home-away-from-home at the Gender and Sexuality Center and the Multicultural Engagement Center. When the First-Gen Longhorns program launched in spring 2018, they immediately joined the supportive community of students, staff and alumni—all of whom share the distinction of being the first in their families to attend and graduate from college. We caught up with the Houston, Texas native to learn more about their academic journey, graduate school plans, and how they have been navigating the last leg of the spring semester amid a global health crisis.
Vázquez—and many other First-Gen Longhorns graduates—will be honored at this year’s virtual graduation celebration on Wednesday, May 20. Go to this website for more information.
How have you been doing amid the COVID-19 crisis?
I’ve been doing okay, as I’m sure most students can relate. Times are really, really rough right now. Finishing my last semester at UT online was difficult. The transition was not easy for me, and I found myself extremely behind in all of my classes. If it wasn’t for the student resources available from Student Emergency Services, the Counseling and Mental Health Center and UT Outpost, I wouldn’t be finishing up the semester the way I am now.
Have you gained any new insights or perspectives during this challenging time?
I’ve learned that community is very important. We need each other to move forward, be inspired and to connect. Through working together, we can make sure that people have food, shelter and access to soap and water through this challenging time. When we work together, we can keep each other cared for and safe!
How long have you been involved in the First-Gen Longhorns program, and how has it helped you along your journey here at UT ?
I’ve been involved since the beginning. I remember a time before the First-Gen Longhorns program and I’m really glad that it exists now. The greatest benefit of the program, for me, was the connections that turned into meaningful friendships with other first-gen students.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-gen college student? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was not knowing if what I was doing was “right.” I didn’t have family members to ask, as they would just say, “You know what you’re going through, we don’t.” One way I overcame that was by swallowing my shyness and making relationships with advisors and professors who I could trust about my situation. They were the ones who helped me through my biggest academic hurdles, in addition to the student communities I could pass ideas around with.
What drew your interest in Latina/o Studies?
What excites me about Latino Studies is how necessary this field of study is purely for the reason that it exists, because of student activism, like many other ethnic studies majors and academic programs. Students voiced their needs for representation and equitable representation in academia, and future students were able to reap the benefits. This is similar to the First-Gen Longhorns program, where students made the space for themselves to be connected and represented with each other.
Where do you see yourself after graduation?
I see myself still heavily involved with community work. I hope to go to graduate school and law school someday. I can see myself one day being an art museum curator as much as I can see myself being a legal attorney representing detained and incarcerated people who have been wrongfully charged. I can also see myself practicing my DJ skills—LOL!
What advice would you give to incoming First-Gen Longhorns?
My biggest advice for incoming first-gen Longhorns is to listen to your feelings. If you don’t like a certain major, or a certain class, or a certain org—don’t do it just because you think you have to do it. Don’t do anything that doesn’t make you happy, even if it goes against what you think your parents want or what other college students do. University is a time to learn about your passions and who you are. Even if you can’t let go of a major because of scholarships or pressure, add a minor or certificate in a different study that interests you, like an ethnic studies minor or art certificate. Also, there’re so many orgs, so don’t be afraid to dip your toes in more than one. The right fit can surprise you.
What will you miss most about being on the UT campus?
I will miss the communities I am a part of. I was really active on campus, and being around other students, building communites, supporting each other, and being active in student orgs was always something I looked forward to.
Anything else you would like to add?
Don’t be afraid to have fun! I was part of a tech crew for UT shows and was a DJ at KVRX 91.7 UT Austin student radio. It’s possible to do so much! Dream big!