Diversity counselor excels as a social justice instructor
By Casby Bias
She is a counselor. She is a Diversity Coordinator at Marquette University's Counseling Center. And on Tuesdays, Angela Zapata takes on a different but just as challenging occupation: a social justice instructor for a CommUNITY class.
“Diversity is kind of a big umbrella for a lot of different things underneath it,” Zapata said. “I try to do a lot.”
CommUNITY is a cross-cultural engagement housing opportunity in McCormick Hall. Selected freshmen come together and learn more about becoming social justice leaders within the society. Zapata prepares the students to be more comfortable expressing themselves toward other cultures and learn how to respond to bigoted information. Receiving a mention in the spring 2013 Diversity Committee newsletter, the social justice advocate smiled proudly as one of the program’s teachers.
An aspiring activist must have a strong heart in order to pursue such a career in social justice. Zapata said that her interest started early thanks to her family’s backgrounds.
On her dad’s side, a Mexican revolutionary fought exclusively for the rights of peasants and land. And on her mother’s side around the same time, Zapata had a three-time grandfather who started the first Mason union in Washington state.
“My family in their own individual ways has tried to fight for equality,” she said. “It was either in social class or giving people opportunities that they didn’t have before.”
With her family's past and her parents encouraging her to stand up for herself, Zapata worked toward becoming the first person in her family to attend college and graduate school. She obtained a social justice leadership position in the process.
“From an early age I can remember being helpful to other students,” the diversity counselor said. “[I was] really engaged in student leadership positions, and really tried to create opportunities for other people to feel engaged.”
Zapata said that diversity points filled into every educational opportunity. The topic appeared within her women studies classes and conversations with professors. She said that all of the experience helped her realize her potential in the field.
“It all really helped me expand my understanding of different social identities; power, privilege, oppression and the psychological impact of those things,” she said. “It really set me up for being able to get the position like the one that I have where I can really do this work from a day to day basis.”
With her passion and expertise, Zapata became prepared for what she would teach the CommUNITY program students. She said that the first semester included educating the individuals about stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and privilege.
“During the first semester we talk about the foundations that are important in social justice work,” She said. “So we understand issues about our own personal identity, where those come from and how those shape who we are.”
Zapata described the second semester for the class as the “-ism’s.”
“Last semester we looked at ageism and adultism and ableism,” Zapata said. “This semester we’re looking at racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism.”
Techniques that Zapata uses in the class include telling her own personal stories related to social justice. She also uses a dialogue-type technique in order to engage the students.
“In diversity education and social justice education, what’s much more impactful is actually having real dialogue and learning how to listen to others,” she said. “[You] share your own perspective and understand the other person’s perspective.”
Through the class, the cross-cultural engagement instructor brings the Marquette community and the world closer together, coordinator of the CommUNITY program Dr. Jim McMahon said.
"What I admire most about Dr. Zapata is her unwavering commitment to serving under-represented students," said McMahon. "This is most evident in the classroom where she challenges stereotypic comments and engages students in discussions about privilege and the role that plays in disproportionate opportunities for majority students."
As the semester winds down, Zapata looks forward to the final week’s conversation that she plans on discussing: allyship and advocacy. She said that she enjoyed opening up to her students. She will continue to do so in the future for more unity.
“We show our own vulnerability and emotions when things come up,” said Zapata. “Whether that’s anger, sadness or hurt feelings or happiness because emotionality is a real part of this process.”