Campus & community

Lisa García Bedolla: I work so today’s Latinx students don’t face the barriers I did

UC Berkeley's Latinx Thriving Initiative is a bold call for transformative change

Lisa García Bedolla wearing a blue shirt that says berkeley graduate division and a button that says ask me anything, her two daughter, one in a mask, sit on either side of her

Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division Lisa García Bedolla (middle) poses with her two daughters, Paola Bedolla García (left) and Micaela Bedolla García, at UC Berkeley’s Grad-Stravaganza celebration in September 2022. (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

As we celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, I find myself reflecting on the U.S. Latinx experience and what I believe it can teach us about our university and our country. The Latinx community is remarkably diverse — by generation, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, racial background, socioeconomic status, etc. Here in California, that community includes individuals whose families have been on this land since before it became part of the U.S. and others who recently migrated from Latin America. Their life experiences, cultural practices and identifications can be profoundly different.

‘On My Mind’

‘On My Mind’ is a space for senior campus leaders to communicate with the Berkeley community.

My parents are Cuban political refugees who arrived in Los Angeles in 1961, with two suitcases of used clothing and the expectation that their return home was imminent; that was more than 60 years ago. My sense of self has been formed by the emotional weight of their forced exile and their expectation that I take advantage of the opportunities they made possible through their sacrifice. It has also been shaped by the inability of many in U.S. society to understand who I am and where I come from beyond seeing me as “foreign,” somehow exotic, and fundamentally, someone who just doesn’t belong.

García Bedolla in a grad cap smiling

García Bedolla graduated from UC Berkeley in 1992. (Photo courtesy Lisa García Bedolla)

As an undergraduate at Berkeley, I used my feelings of exclusion to fuel my academic performance. When faced with challenges on campus, I figured out how to work around them, using the institution’s resources to the best of my ability.

a dog in sunglasses poses with latino politics, a book written by Lisa García Bedolla

García Bedolla’s dog poses with her latest book about Latino politics. (Photo courtesy Lisa García Bedolla)

As an administrator and faculty member, I now work to make sure that today’s Latinx students don’t face the barriers I did, don’t have to create those work-arounds, and that they feel seen and valued on campus. That was why my partner and I endowed a scholarship, named after his parents to support undocumented Latinx students on campus. And that is why I am so excited about our Latinx Thriving Initiative (LTI). Stemming from the Chancellor’s bold commitment to making Berkeley a Hispanic Serving Institution, the LTI framework is the product of students, staff and faculty coming together to imagine how the university can better serve its Latinx students.

García Bedolla smiles sitting next to her husband

García Bedolla with her husband, José Luis Bedolla, at a UC Berkeley football game in 2019. (Photo courtesy Lisa García Bedolla)

It is a bold call for transformative change to the core of how the university does its business. Because the Latinx community is so diverse, this approach must be intersectional, multidimensional and broadly inclusive. I often say in my research that the Latinx community, because it encompasses so many axes of American society, is both aspirational and minoritized. I would argue that the integration, or reintegration, of Latinos in California is the canary in the coal mine for U.S. democracy. For the university, I would say that serving this complex, diverse community is the path to creating a university that serves everyone on campus and allows us to fully realize our core value of serving the public good for California, the nation, and the world.

So this Latinx Heritage Month, I invite you to join me and the many others working on the LTI on campus. Only together can we achieve this initiative’s full potential, ensuring that each and every one of our Latinx community members can have the opportunity to thrive and build Berkeley’s next 150 years of excellence.