Dr. Victoria Rodriguez, Diversity Post-Doctoral Fellow

 Victoria Rodriguez

Interview by Nadia Nguyen, Sophomore, Communication Studies

The Basics: What’s your story? Describe a unique aspect of your everyday perspective that impacts your teaching.

My name is Victoria Rodriguez. I’m from San Antonio, Texas and am a 7th generation Tejana, which means that my family settled in Texas when it was still a part of “New Spain” and then Mexico. I was raised by strong Latinas, my mother and grandmother, who taught me to be proud of my cultura. With the help of scholarships from my church, I was able to attend Catholic school from grades K-12. My experiences in Catholic school definitely shaped my perspective on education and demonstrated the positive impact that caring teachers and high expectations can have on students. However, it also helped me see some of the inequities in the education system that I would later go on to study in graduate school. While I attended Catholic school, my neighborhood friends attended our local, low-income public schools. I noticed differences in our schooling experiences. My schools were often well resourced, had high teacher retention, and communicated high expectations of all students. My neighborhood peers experienced almost the exact opposite. I felt that this was completely unfair. I was just like my neighborhood peers and yet I was getting access to a wealth of resources simply because my church was able to send me to private schools. From this experience, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to fight for educational equity, so that all students would have access to a high quality education no matter their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc. I was able to combine my passions for education and psychology in graduate studies where I received my PhD in Developmental and Psychological Sciences and Race, Inequality, and Language in Education. Now as a postdoctoral scholar I draw on both my experiences as a first-generation college going Latina and my expertise as an education researcher to construct an inclusive learning environment for my students here at USD. Through my research, I investigate the college readiness process for underrepresented youth in an effort to better understand how schools can best support and prepare their students to persist in college. I feel so fortunate to be able to live out my professional dreams here at USD.  

How do you create a collaborative learning environment in the classroom?

At the beginning of every semester I ask my students to come up with the norms and expectations for the class as a group. I have found that when students establish their own “rules” for discussion and engagement in the class, they are more likely to follow through. I also ask my students to anonymously write down their expectations of me as their instructor. I think that it’s important to not only have expectations of students but to hold ourselves as faculty members to the high expectations of students. I’ve found that I’m usually pleasantly surprised to read students’ expectations. For example, instead of students just asking for easy tests, they normally ask that as an instructor I be enthusiastic about and prepared for class. Both of these exercises are meant to communicate to my students that they have a voice in my classroom and that their voice is valuable.

How do you get to know your students?

I try to construct assignments that allow students to share a little bit about themselves and bring in their own personal experiences. For example, in my Understanding Racial and Ethnic Identity course last semester, I asked students at the beginning of the semester to write their own personal history with the topic of race and/or ethnicity. I understand that students normally come into a class with experiences of their own that relate to the content. At the end of the semester I ask them to revisit these papers to see if any of the course content is reflected in their own personal experiences and anecdotes, allowing them to apply the academic material they’ve learned to their own lives. Providing them with the opportunity to reflect on this helps solidify that information.   I also really enjoy getting to talk with students before and after class, asking them about any exciting or not so exciting experiences they’ve had since I last saw them. Students are usually quite eager to share the latest experiences they’ve had. I also try to check-in with students that are not as eager to share, providing opportunities for one-on-one communication instead of demanding that they share in front of an audience.

What is the single most important thing you want students to know?

 To be critical of everything that’s presented to them as fact. There are many things in society that we accept as fact or inevitable, like inequality or race. And there are many times when science has supported ideas and presented them as fact only to later find out how wrong we were (e.g. phrenology, the earth as flat, etc.). I always hope that my students walk away from my class with a more critical and curious lens about their world. With more questions than answers, and a comfort with that.

 How do you create equitable learning environments?

I provide students with many different opportunities and entry points for engaging with course content. I understand that not everyone enjoys speaking up in class, and that being silent is not a sign that the student is not engaged. Therefore, in class we have online discussions and small group discussions or debates, as well as whole class discussions. Students provide written reflections of how the course content fits in with their own personal experiences and whether or not it challenges their previous conceptions of the topic. This allows students to grapple with topics on their own before being asked to do so in class. Variety is the spice of life and having a variety of activities and assignments in class makes it so that everyone can find an aspect of class that they really enjoy and provide them with an opportunity to feel competent.

Proudest teaching/career moment?

At the end of this past semester, I received a few emails/notes from my students saying how much my class meant to them. I felt so humbled and overjoyed to receive these messages. They made me feel like I was truly making an impact.

Where can we find you outside of the classroom?

Dancing Ballet Folklorico with Muevete Dance Studio! I danced Ballet Folklorico, traditional Mexican folk dance, from the age of 3 to 22. I stopped when I went to graduate school, but have decided to get back into it. It’s been such a joy and I love it! When I’m not dancing, you can probably find me in a coffee shop somewhere writing or doing course prep!