Jerry Calderon (left) and Katelin Goño (right) prepare to carry out projects that promote diversity on campus. Pepperdine awarded the two seniors the Equity and Social Justice Fellowship in April 2021, and they are working with faculty mentors to cultivate a deeper sense of inclusion and belonging at Pepperdine. Photos courtesy of Jerry Calderon and Katelin Goño
On April 30, Pepperdine awarded two students the Equity and Social Justice Scholarship for the academic year 2021-22.
Scholarship recipients Katelin Goño and Jerry Calderon – both in their final year – oversee projects that strengthen inclusion and belonging on campus. Goño will host focus groups where identity-based student organizations will share their experiences with each other and with the administration, and Calderon will campaign to expand Indigenous recognition on campus.
After months of writing proposals with their college mentors, Goño and Calderon said they were ready to make fundamental and lasting changes within the Pepperdine community.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion have always meant feeling safe to fully express yourself in this space,” Goño said. “Whether it’s race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, it’s about choosing empathy and compassion so that others don’t have to hide those parts.”
Katelin Goño unveils various meanings of diversity
Goño is a major in International Studies with a double minor in Nonprofit Management and English. Because she will be graduating this year, Goño wants to make the most of her time at Pepperdine through the scholarship program, she said.
“I left in first year, then I came back to senior,” said Goño. “So I felt like I barely had time on campus and was really looking for a way to get involved that would have a lasting impact. ”
For her project, Goño said she would create focus groups for students to share their views on diversity and how their identities can be better recognized in Pepperdine.
“The aim is to compare how the administration thinks about diversity versus what the actual student experience is,” Goño said.
With this information, Goño said she would hold discussions during the second semester with students who have different points of view to try to help them understand each other better, especially coming out of isolation.
“Pepperdine is not the same school that we left,” Goño said. “I didn’t want to go back to school pretending nothing had happened. I wanted to get involved in some kind of initiative that was actively working to change culture and provide students with more inclusive spaces.
Goño said that after social justice movements became more visible in 2020, she became more passionate about the importance of diversity and equity in her own life as well as within the Pepperdine community.
“I have learned that I personally have so much that I need to learn when it comes to unboxing my own unconscious or subconscious biases and understanding the privilege that I had growing up,” said Goño. “It can be very intimidating to bring up this subject. “
Goño is a second generation American – her father was born in the Philippines and her mother was born in Korea.
As she got older, Goño said she realized that no two people – even with similar backgrounds – have the same stories, and her project is linked to raising awareness of this idea.
“Their [her parents’] identities as immigrants definitely shaped my perception and understanding of what it means to be an American, ”Goño said. “It was only more recently that I realized that understanding is different from that of many other peoples and that each has its own story that shapes that identity.”
After seeing the division among student groups and administrators, Goño said she hopes everyone can better listen to each other to learn how they can foster a more inclusive community. For example, the University can take steps to welcome those who identify as LGBTQ + in addition to initiating more concrete action-based positions on social justice issues and in response to controversies on campus.
Goño said his five years of volunteering at Hope all over the world served as a window on the lives of the less fortunate, whose minority status silences their voice in society.
“What pushed me to better understand social justice and equity is my involvement in nonprofit organizations,” Goño said. “We should use the resources and privileges we have here at Pepperdine for the benefit of others disenfranchised by these broken systems.”
Jerry Calderon stands up for his Indigenous community
Calderon is a double major in psychology and political science with a minor in English, and he said he was involved in the defense of the Native American community on campus, particularly through his position as Senior Senator of the SGA.
Growing up in an Indigenous and Latinx home, Calderon said his passion for bringing attention to Indigenous voices has always existed, but intensified as a freshman when he learned that college occupied the land of Chumash – his ancestors.
Calderon said his family told him about his ancestors, which made him want to take a leadership role in Indigenous change.
“I have immersed myself in many activities of Indigenous activism by discovering great great uncles who held positions on tribal councils,” Calderon said. “They were fighting to get things like water to be on a reserve, and hearing that now, it inspired me to bring it here. Obviously, we are not fighting for water, but we are fighting for their point of view to be understood and recognized.
The title of Calderon’s project is “Tisik”, which is a Chumash term meaning “to recognize.”
“I use this term strategically because I not only want students to recognize the ground we occupy, but the administration to recognize it in everything we do,” Calderon said.
The project’s mission, Calderon said, is divided into three parts. He wants to set up an indigenous literature library in the Payson library with indigenous stories that can be implemented in the lessons. Calderon also hopes to promote conversations between the University and various tribal leaders on the honorable diversification of the Indigenous community on campus..
Calderon said he also wants an increase in admissions of native Southern California students to Pepperdine.
“It’s one thing to make sure we bring in aboriginal students, but it’s another to respect their perspective and respect this history and this culture,” Calderon said.
Calderon’s position as SGA provided him with his first opportunity to act within Pepperdine to recognize Indigenous peoples, he said. SGA passed two of its resolutions, Calderon said – one asking the University to release an official land recognition and the other commissioning a Chumash artist to paint a mural.
“It’s so important that the people of Chumash tell Chumash stories and bring that recognition to campus,” Calderon said.
When he heard about the new equity and social justice scholarship, Calderon said he saw it as a chance to continue his activism through a broader platform at Pepperdine. He said he was grateful to Seaver for creating the scholarship as it allows him to work closely with the dean’s office to assess how they can implement his ideas.
Faculty mentors speak out on student determination
Biology professor Donna Nofziger has mentored Goño’s faculty and been part of the scholarship process since they started writing the proposal in the spring of 2021. Goño said she chose Nofziger as her mentor after studying l involvement of Nofziger in the SEED program.
“She is such an advocate for minority groups and wants to educate herself,” Goño said. “Even when I can get drawn into all the technical aspects of this project – like going through administration and working on all the different aspects of research – his zeal and his heart for it still motivates me.”
Nofziger said Goño’s ambition and motivation is inspiring. With a student-professor partnership, said Nofziger, the project is able to reach not only students but also administration in a way that has never been seen before.
“Katelin worked very hard,” Nofziger said. “She leads with her heart and head, and she’s done everything we would want a Pepperdine student to do, which is find something you’re passionate about and find ways to do it.”
Calderon said his mentor, psychology professor Tomas Martinez, has been his role model and support system since Calderon was in first grade.
Martinez taught Pepperdine for 43 years and said he had recommended for more diversity and inclusion of minority groups through its work to help high-risk youth, change the GE curriculum to Pepperdine, and raise awareness of cross-cultural mental health issues.
The university has a lot to improve administratively, Martinez said, and he hopes the Calderon project will have a permanent effect on students and faculty.
“The impact [of Calderon’s project] will hopefully be long lasting at Pepperdine rather than just a simple happening happening, ”Martinez said. “It’s part of what I would call dealing with the concept of historical, generational, and racist biases that unintentionally or unknowingly can be portrayed in this Pepperdine story.”
Ultimately, Calderon and Martinez said the fellowship opened doors for them and gave them hope for Pepperdine’s future – all people have to do, they said, is to to listen.
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