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Q&A: Meet Student Legacy Award Winner Dionicia Berrones

Dionicia Berrones First Gen Ambassador UT

Meet Dionicia Berrones, a senior majoring in Mexican American & Latina/o Studies (MALS) and government in the College of Liberal Arts. Read on to learn more about her good work on campus as a proud ambassador and leader of the First-Gen Longhorns Equity program in the Longhorn Center for Academic Equity. She will be honored with the Student Legacy Award.on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at the annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. 

Programs and Activities: Student Associate, DDCE Office of the Vice President; Lead Ambassador, Committee Chair and Transition Coach, First Gen Equity; Program Mentor, Foundation Scholars; Student Graduate, Explore Law; Co-Director of Special Events, Latinx Community Affairs; Vice President of Membership, Texas Orange Jackets; College of Liberal Arts Rep, Texas Phanos; Member, Minority Women Pursuing Law, Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, University Leadership Program

What does it mean to you to be honored at the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights?

Being honored with the Heman Sweatt Student Legacy Award is something that I didn’t think was possible— and it was a total surprise when I got the news. Back in February 2020, I remember attending the Heman Sweatt Symposium to listen to the conversation with Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, and while there I caught the presentation of these awards. I would have never imagined myself in their shoes. I feel so privileged to be recognized, but this award is not just for me. It’s something that represents the hard work of everyone around me, those who have uplifted me since the start.

How have you benefitted from your experiences in the First-Gen Longhorns program?

The DDCE’s First-Gen Equity program and the university’s First-Gen Longhorns community have changed my life and shaped my college experience. It may be cheesy to say, but it’s completely true. Since that first kickoff weekend back in the Fall of 2018, I knew that it was a space that I was comfortable in, and that it would support me through my endeavors. After joining the team, I created events, made Instagram graphics, fundraised for the initiative, and I even kicked off a mentorship program. Then the pandemic hit, and we had to get creative on how to continue to support first-gen students. With the support of the student ambassadors and the DDCE staff, we created an Online Center for First-Gen Students and continued to develop virtual programming for our community. I’ve learned so much from the first-gen community, and I’m forever grateful for all the people I’ve met within these spaces. With everything I was a part of and everything I had the privilege to create, I was learning and growing through each step of the process.

What advice would you give to a new First-Gen Longhorn student here at UT?

Show up and be present! I promise you, most of the time that is the hardest part. Show up to that event that you’re interested in and take notes about the conversation. Show up to your professor’s office hours for that class you really like or maybe the one you’re struggling with. Show up to that student organization info session and mingle. The more you show up in different spaces, the more you get to interact with people and find your community. Hopefully, it will be made up of all the different people you interact with and are happy to support you. Sometimes all it takes is showing up to one event to positively impact the next four years of your life.

Which Civil Rights leader, past or present, do you look to for inspiration?

I look everywhere for inspiration. I like to pay close attention to my MALS classes, specifically when we talk about the people and organizations that have advocated and fought for our rights. Organizations like Las Adelitas de Aztlán, the Young Lords Organization, the Brown Berets and the Americans Civil Liberties Union. Leaders within community spaces advocating for Latino/a/x civil rights, people like Enriqueta Vasquez, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez, Anna Nieto-Gomez, Sylvia Mendez and many more are doing the work today.

What’s next after graduation? Do you have a dream job in mind?

After graduation, I hope to take a gap year, or two, before heading to law school. Anyways, for now, I’m just going to work, so the job search is on!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am a product of many people’s support, I am a reflection of others’ hard work, and I am someone who is working toward continuing to change lives alongside my community. So this award is for y’all!