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Community Connection: Emily Ramos, SSP'19

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Specialized Studies reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Emily Ramos

Photo by Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award is an honor that recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. The award will be presented at Convocation on May 29.

The decision to come to HGSE was not an automatic one for Emily Ramos. Her deliberation process included self-reflection and many conversations with HGSE students and alumni, after which she often felt conflicted.

“The decision really came down to whether or not I was willing and ready to jump,” Ramos says. “As a result, the commitment I made to attend HGSE was also a commitment to remembering and acknowledging the existing, thriving communities outside of this institution. My goal upon entering the Ed School was to never forget that very fact, and to listen intentionally with that at the forefront of my mind.”

Although she enrolled in the Specialized Studies Program (SSP), with a strong interest in the areas of academic research or higher education student affairs, Ramos’ internship at Harvard College’s Dean of Students Office made her realize that her heart really lies in direct service.

“A dream job would include working with high school-aged youth in an organization that prioritizes community engagement, community building, and social justice…. I definitely want to work in a space that values community organization partnerships, especially if I land at an institution of higher education,” she says, noting that she hopes to do this work in her home state of California.

“Emily is enormously valued both within and outside of the Specialized Studies Program,” says Eileen McGowan, faculty director of SSP. “She contributes to meaningful conversations by bringing up underrepresented opinions and also helps to establish safe environments, conducive to shared growth and intellectual development. We appreciate her gracious, kind and generous spirit!”

Here, Ramos reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education:

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career? While I learned many things at HGSE, especially from and with my peers, Dr. Jarvis Givens’ course on the American School and Racial Formation reminded me of the importance of connecting contemporary discourse in education back to history, particularly the histories of black and native education. So many of the structures, frameworks, and systems we critique and attempt to reform today are rooted in pivotal, often sinister, moments in history. Dr. Givens’ course helped me see the immense value in making those connections as we think about change in any concentration of the education field. We need to be precise (with ubiquitous language like “diversity and inclusion,” for example) and thorough as we create initiatives and efforts that go beyond access to historically exclusive spaces and impact students’ livelihoods.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? As a student in Specialized Studies, looking at the course catalog across the university was like being in a toy store, with the abundance of shiny, new options and freedom to make my own decisions about what to take! By no mistake, all of the courses I took were taught by faculty of color, mostly black professors (shoutout to Daren Graves, Karen Mapp, Tony Jack, and Jarvis Givens) and womxn of color, and it was incredible to experience that for the first time in my educational trajectory. I believe one person who significantly shaped my time here was HGSE Ph.D. student Nadirah Farah Foley, who TFed two courses I took in the fall semester and taught Reconsidering Merit(ocracy) in K–12, Higher Education, and Beyond. Not only is Nadirah an amazing instructor and facilitator who taught me the importance of asking fewer "right" questions rather than seeking answers to many, but she was also someone who pushed me to think critically about what I wanted to get out of HGSE and after. Nadirah supported me immensely inside and outside of the classroom — she affirmed my and other students' experiences in facilitated dialogues about cultural and social inequality through academically rigorous frameworks. My gratitude for Nadirah could never be truly captured in prose, and I'm grateful to have her as someone to look up to.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? My familia, including my parents, brother, abuelxs, tios, more loved ones, friends, and mentors back home, were always the primary touchstones I returned to in order to feel full again, but working through moments that questioned my purpose here was difficult being 3,000 miles away from them. I was honored and lucky enough to enroll in the Ethnic Studies and Education two-week J-Term course taught by Christina “V” Villarreal this year, and the community we fostered in that class reignited me to get through spring semester. The content, conversations, and timing of T-004 made it one of the most academically and emotionally intense courses I’ve ever taken, yet also the most fulfilling. V doesn’t play, and I believe everyone in that course was pushed to think about their pedagogy and practice to an extent that was uncomfortable. But that’s what I love about advocating for social justice — growing pains are real, and it’s a discomfort that should be personal. The Ethnic Studies crew from J-Term (and the beautiful people from WOCC, AOCC, and Comunidad) taught me about what community can look like at HGSE, grounded in accountability, resistance, and love.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … Breathing and walking. Harvard is another world that can feel isolating, confusing, or frustrating if you aren’t doing a million things. The energy also feels strong as I walk the brick roads and think about their history. Counting my breaths and steps helps me feel grounded, acknowledge what I’m feeling in the present moment, and process. Practicing mindfulness is important for me to gauge my capacity and keep pushing!

Read about the other recipients of the Intellectual Contribution Award and learn more about HGSE Commencement 2019.