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Fighting for Change: Estefania Rodriguez, L&T'16

Estefania Rodriguez
Estefania Rodriguez’s passion lies in transforming urban education. And, in coming to the Ed School, she discovered that, as a teacher, she has the power to make substantial change happen.

“I thought I needed to be more than a teacher to foster change, but I realize it’s the type of teacher that matters,” she says. “My goal is to use education as a vehicle for liberation. … I have made personal growth in understanding that we must re-educate our teachers to develop compassion and critical consciousness to empower the communities they serve.”

Rodriguez, a member of the Learning and Teaching (L&T) Program’s Instructional Leadership strand, is excited to return to classroom after graduation, and use what she’s learned to “support other teachers in using critical pedagogy, ethnic studies, restorative justice, community activism, and a decolonizing curriculum to empower students of color.” This, she hopes, will help her community of Hartford, Connecticut — as well as other urban districts — move toward her long-held goal of ending the inequity and structural racism that often stands in the way of providing all students with a great education.

“Estefania Rodriguez is a leader who demonstrates her political and intellectual skills both inside and outside of the classroom," says Senior Lecturer Katherine Boles, director of L&T. “She has brought her insightful ideas into personal conversations, class discussions, and to the many events in which she has been involved at HGSE, including the Comunidad Latinx, the Alumni of Color Conference, Hispanic Heritage events, and the events of the weeklong Semana de los Muertos. Estefania has pushed students, faculty, and administration to think critically about diversity all while maintaining high intellectual standards. She is passionate about teaching, and she speaks regularly about how she cannot wait to return to the classroom next year.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for L&T, Rodriguez answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.         

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? No History, No Self. Know History, Know Self. All of us must understand where we come from to visualize and comprehend where we are going. Too often the dominant narrative erases the stories and experiences of the marginalized. However, when we take a closer look, we can see that people of color have founded and contributed in an innumerable way to this country. We can only grow as a nation once we recognize the pain and triumphs of our ancestors.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Ethnic Studies and Education taught by Christina “V” Villareal has confirmed, pushed, and renewed my energy to continue to fight for social justice. This course allowed me to investigate legal and social constructions of race that undoubtedly affect historically underserved communities that hold our most powerful students. I was able to engage in critical self-reflection to better understand the impact and inner workings of oppression and to better interrupt and dismantle racist practices and frameworks in education. Finally, with this course I feel empowered to apply radical frameworks, critical pedagogies, and liberation practices to support students be agents of change in their communities. V, has become a mentor, friend, and inspiration to all of the students in that course.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Practice radical self-care. You cannot work or fight for others if you do not take care of yourself first. Being at Harvard pushes you to be involved and present at everything. However, you must take time and practice compassion for yourself in order to sustain all of your passions. Be aware to when you need a break either to sleep or dance. My favorite quote this year has been, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde.

What will you change in education and why? Communities of color continue to be analyzed through deficit lenses. Too often the assets, beauty, and resistance of our communities are ignored. I will continue to speak up and challenge narratives that paint false stereotypes, caricatures, and myths of Black and Brown bodies. As educational leaders, it is our duty to humanize and empower our students who for too long have had to endure physical and symbolic violence.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … calling my parents. Without the sacrifices of my mom and dad, I would not be where I am today. Whether I’m in line at Gutman café, walking home, or sneaking a text in class, my parents give and receive daily amor y cariño. They humble me and motivate me to keep on going on.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? Beyoncé.

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.


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