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One student’s efforts to improve access to education within the LatinX community

World Access to Higher Education Day highlights the need to eliminate barriers
By: Deborah Smyth
November 22, 2019
Claudia Sanchez-Jara

Sociology student Claudia Sanchez-Jara has benefited from a program that increases access to education – the Hispanic/Latino Student Award – and now supports other students as the LatinX community lead at the Tri-Mentoring Program. Photo: Alia Youssef.

When Claudia Sanchez-Jara began her arts studies at Ryerson and couldn’t find a LatinX group mentoring community she could connect with, she decided to co-found one.

A LatinX student is someone who is Hispanic or of Latin descent, and may or may not be Spanish speaking.

Sanchez-Jara’s parents moved to Canada from Chile about 30 years ago and Claudia spoke Spanish as her first language until she started school. Growing up, she remained close to her family’s Chilean culture and wanted to connect with other LatinX students when she started at Ryerson in 2016.

First year was tough financially for Sanchez-Jara, so she applied successfully for a Hispanic/Latino Student Award, designed to help Hispanic/Latino youth succeed.

“It made a huge difference,” she said. “University is expensive and the award has helped pay my tuition and helps me buy textbooks. This award has supported me financially and, more importantly, has led to meaningful opportunities that I never imagined I would have.”

Through the program, Sanchez-Jara connected with Jennifer Gonzales, now executive director of student affairs, and Jennifer Barcelona, manager of the Tri-Mentoring Program (TMP).

“My first year, I didn’t meet many students who identified as LatinX, or Spanish speaking, so I wanted to start a group for Latin American students on campus, so we could create a sense of community, make connections within the LatinX community, and embrace the differences in our identities,” said Sanchez-Jara.

She discussed the idea with Barcelona and Allysa Martinez, mentoring facilitator, and in 2017, at the end of her first year, they offered Sanchez-Jara a part-time position as the LatinX community lead within TMP. The following year, she became an arts lead mentor and this year returned to her LatinX community lead role.

The monthly LatinX group often collaborates with the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) student group.

“Students can come to monthly sessions, talk about their identity and their life as a student, get access to opportunities, and have fun together,” she explained. “It’s been an eye-opening experience and has helped me be more open-minded and learn more about people’s experiences and perceptions.”

Sanchez-Jara has had a lot of positive feedback from the group’s participants: “Students appreciate knowing that there is a community on campus they can connect with and share their experiences as LatinX or Spanish speaking. Students can also voice what they would like to see happen during these group mentoring meetups.”

After completing her sociology program in 2021, Sanchez-Jara plans to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

“What I'm really passionate about is addressing the absence of LatinX representation in film and television and finding a way to do more positive stories instead of relying on stereotypes,” she said.

Helping her achieve that goal is a career mentor within TMP.

“My career mentor, who currently works in the film and television industry, supports me in terms of what I want to do with my career goals by sharing their guidance and thoughts.” said Sanchez-Jara. “I also have these types of conversations with the mentoring facilitators at TMP and I am grateful for that.”

Sanchez-Jara feels that her LatinX group and other Tri-Mentoring programs offer an important support system for students from all backgrounds.

“These programs provide students with mentoring opportunities. People who work at TMP create a welcoming environment where students can feel appreciated.”

World Access to Higher Education Day

November 26, 2019 marks the second annual World Access to Higher Education Day. Established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the day is an opportunity for institutions and organizations to form a network to address barriers to higher education, and find solutions. Ryerson is a proud registered supporter of this global movement.

Ryerson has introduced a number of awards, grants, and scholarships, as well as programs like Spanning the Gaps and Tri-Mentoring to provide a bridge to education.

Find out more at Ryerson Access to Education.

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