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Community-Minded: Rachel Freeman, HEP'15

Rachel FreemanWashington D.C. native Rachel Freeman’s desire to learn more about community college, particularly access initiatives for immigrants and undocumented youth, brought her to Appian Way. When working for Bill Trueheart, Ed.D.’79, and Julie Englund, Ed.D.’84, at Achieving the Dream, a national reform network of community colleges, she “fell in love with the social justice mission of community colleges.” Freeman pursued this interest while enrolled in the Higher Education Program (HEP), working for Bunker Hill Community College.

“Upon entering the Ed School, I aspired to learn as much as I could about immigrant students’ experiences through my coursework and research,” Freeman says. “I also wanted to talk to community college students about their experiences by working for Bunker Hill ….  [President] Pam Eddinger’s enthusiasm for intellectual inquiry and commitment to social justice has been inspiring to me, so I wanted to work for a college she is leading. I think it is extremely important to have knowledge of research, policy, and practice in order to be a thoughtful, trusted, and effective leader in the field.”

Freeman’s strong interest in community college and access to higher education for first-generation students continued throughout the year and was an inspiration to her cohort. According to Professor Judith McLaughlin, faculty director of HEP, Freeman arranged events on and off campus for fellow students to become more familiar with issues facing community colleges. 

“One of Rachel’s classmates described Rachel as ‘encompassing all that Dean Ryan championed this year’ with regard to fulfilling the promise of diversity,” says McLaughlin. “Others called Rachel ‘exceptionally gracious and kind,’ and noted her ‘ability to make all people feel welcome and comfortable in her presence.’ As one student said, ‘Her impact on higher education will be significant.’”

Freeman hopes to eventually lead a national initiative where community college leaders, faculty, staff, and students work together to build an inclusive and supportive community on campus for undocumented students. Upon being honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for HEP, she shares some reflections on her year at HGSE.

Have your goals changed since entering the Ed School? Many of my classmates and professors have inspired me to develop expertise in diverse aspects of higher education. I particularly want to learn more about the experiences of students with disabilities and American Indian students as well as access for these student populations. I hope to visit the Navajo Nation one day and learn more about where one of my good friends from the cohort is from! My J-term course with Sam Gregory on human rights advocacy and video propelled me to combine my former interests in filmmaking and animation with education, and [Associate Professor] Natasha Warikoo’s Action Research course inspired me to organize participatory action research projects with community college students and immigrant students.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? I particularly enjoyed [Assistant Professor] Roberto G. Gonzales’ course Contemporary Immigration Policy and Educational Practice this year. Professor Gonzales and his teaching fellow Stephany Cuevas brilliantly created what I might consider a “safe space.” In the classroom, I felt like I could voice some of my true thoughts about complex issues related to immigration, poverty, race, and education. I’ve thought a lot about how this space was created because I want to create similar spaces for my students in the future. I think Professor Gonzales and Stephany Cuevas helped develop this space with us by listening closely to our ideas, deeply considering our varying opinions and perspectives, and making enough time for in-depth discussion. I know I will continue to reflect on this class throughout my lifetime.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? I was continually inspired this year by my classmates’ and professors’ love for their work. I thrive in environments where people are passionate about what they do.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? I would encourage students to continually reflect on what they care about most. There are so many brilliant people at the Ed School with very diverse interests so it is an incredible opportunity to experiment with finding out what you really think about things. I would also encourage next year’s students to have some fun! The “unexamined life is not worth living,” and as Julia Child said, “Moderation in moderation.”

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … Sleep. One of the most important things!

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