Right to Learn Research Collective

Several students in the School of Education & Human Development’s (SEHD) Right to Learn Undergraduate Research Collaborative (R2L), along with Associate Professor Manuel Espinoza, recently presented their research into educational rights at Georgetown Law School’s “Law, Culture and the Humanities Conference” in Washington, D.C.

The trip and presentation by CU Denver’s R2L were made possible by support these individuals and funders: Spencer Foundation; Bob Damrauer, associate vice chancellor for research and creative activities; Jeff Franklin, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate experiences; Rebecca Kantor, dean of SEHD; Samuel Kim, assistance vice chancellor, student retention and success; and, Barbara Seidl, associate dean, SEHD.

Here are their impressions of the trip:

Manuel Espinoza, associate professor, Educational Foundations:

Manuel Espinoza
Associate Professor Manuel Espinoza

Out of the thousands of things there were to remember – the practice session the night before, the walk to get yogurt, the pressure of the actual presentation, going to the Jefferson, King and Lincoln monuments after our triumphant day – I have two that are lodged at the front of my mind.

1) I was filled with great pride the morning we met at Union Station. Ten years in existence and this was perhaps our most significant public moment as a research group. I think we all understood how vital the presentation at Georgetown Law School could be for us. Now, we just had to build on our preparation and carry out our work in the way we knew we could.

On the way at airport, I witnessed something that I had not yet seen with Right to Learn Undergraduate Research Collaborative (R2L.) The students were referring to themselves as “family.” (Perhaps they had already done this and I had yet to observe it. Most assuredly, we had been treating each other as family for quite some time.) I heard things like, “I’m the big sister,” “I’m little sister,” “You’re the cousin.”

2) The group is on the second-floor foyer of the Madison Hotel. An impromptu seminar on Israel Scheffler’s essay “Of Human Potential” is winding down. I am seated next to Frida Silva and I hear her say something like, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” To illustrate, she says, “There’s this…” (pointing to Scheffler’s book), “Then this…” (pointing to her head), “Then this…” (pointing back and forth to the text and her head), “Then this…” (pointing to the members of the group), “And then all this…” (arms extended and hands and fingers pointing in every direction to indicate the world). What I will always remember are the looks on their faces, the seriousness they brought to the act of study, the pride they took in their preparation. This affirms that R2L is my calling, the thing I was placed on this planet to do.

Frida Silva:

Frida Silva
Frida Silva

I have never worked so hard this semester than the weekend that I spent preparing for the “Law, Culture and the Humanities Conference” at Georgetown Law School. It was as if I was preparing for a cross-country race. You practice tirelessly; but, you push yourself and your friends push you to continue forward. You then make a mad dash and sprint the last 100 meters to the finish line. Once you cross the finish line, you feel incredible! That was how I felt when we finished presenting. The real glory came from the feedback we received from those who attended our round-table discussion. When we posed the question if we made sense, the mutual response was yes, and that we were on the brink of something extraordinary. One of the comments we received was, “You [R2L] are anthropologists of your own culture.” That resonated heavily with Right to Learn. It gave us the green light to move to the next step in our research. It is ambitious work that we are doing. We are certainty laying a foundation for the meaning of educational dignity and education as a fundamental right.

My research colleagues are brilliant and I love learning from them! I have definitely felt closer to them after our trip in D.C. They bring insight and new perspectives that I would have never thought to consider. I am enlightened by their outlook on the readings, which gives new direction for my own thought processes and ideas. Professor Espinoza leads with a vision of the great work our research collective can do. This vision gets us excited, gets us inspired to do the work that we do, to look in between the lines, to dig and to discover through realms that have net been ventured. I am so proud to be working with Right to Learn and I am motivated to continue the next steps in our research.

Arliss Howard:

Arliss Howard
Arliss Howard

Taking this journey with my research group was illuminating. Before the trip, I considered them my colleagues, a very bright-minded group of individuals from varying walks of life. But, after the trip, I began to see how much we had in common and I now see them as family. I was able to see the many sides or dimensions of their personalities and to appreciate the unique things about them that I had previously overlooked. I was very inspired by how hard we all worked. I have never been a part of a group where we all took our task so earnestly. I developed a new admiration for my research family when we all sacrificed a day and night of fun for hard work and dedication. I could see how much passion we all hold for this project. And, after we completed our task, I felt the relief and celebration in all of our spirits. After working hard and attending our conference, we were able to let loose and see the city. We shared moments that I will treasure for the remainder of my life. I am truly blessed to be a part of a group that is so motivated and fearless. It has been said that iron sharpens iron, and I know this is true, because when I am around my group mates I feel that there is nothing that can stop us.

Diego Ulibarrí:

Diego Ulibarri
Diego Ulibarri

Leading up to the conference, I had never made the connection between the concept of going and the actuality of attending and presenting our work. Sitting on the airplane, books in hand, is when it really set in for me. I knew we had been preparing for months prior and that all the work would speak for itself; but, it wasn’t real until that moment. The night before the conference, I was confident that it would go well and that my team would perform well. This sentiment wasn’t necessarily shared with the entire group as my teammates stressed and rushed to finish their last-minute adjustments. My confidence stemmed not from my own assuredness, but from my belief in my team and what they all brought to the table. Honestly, with these women there was no way that we would fail or fall short. The presentation went off without a hitch and everyone performed to the best of their abilities. I was proud of us as a group and proud of what we set out to do. Later that night, after the conference, we visited the monuments on the mall and I had an almost surreal experience of realizing that our work was in conversation with all these giants of our history. I was particularly moved when I kneeled on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. It was moving to know that the work I am doing is in his legacy and that still all these years later we are coming to our country’s capital to fight for something as universal and human as the concept of dignity.

Tania Soto Valenzuela:

Tania Soto Valenzuela
Tania Soto Valenzuela

It has been days, months and even years, of preparation to get to a place where we can share our ideas on educational dignity to an open room of familiar and stranger faces who are invited to critique our work. It feels uncanny to have gone from meeting with Dr. Espinoza in his office – letting our minds roam the realm of rights violations and unfair and unequal treatment, to dreaming of educational spaces where dignity is being generated – to now, being unshaken in our belief that education needs to be a fundamental right of personhood based on the principles of dignity.

From that office to the airplane where I sat next to intelligent minds that have come to breathe life into R2L. We are a full-on research project, with funding, due to the unwavering persistence of the office meetings where we didn’t yet make sense.

In the early days in Professor Espinoza’s office, we would ask each other questions, and there was much silence behind many of them. Now, we ask similar questions in our group meetings and there’s silence, but a distinct one marked by brilliant minds at work. And when the silence breaks, it’s beautiful, a stream of astute remarks that continue to question and answer our role and impact on this world.

Maria Velasco:

Maria Velasco
Maria Velasco

I don’t think it really hit me that our team was in D.C., getting ready to share our ideas, until Frida said, “That’s crazy! There it is,” when we saw the capitol building from the shuttle driving us to the hotel. It started to dawn on me that we were actually doing this. The next day, when we were sitting around in a hallway in the hotel prepping and reviewing I thought, “We’ve got this! It’s time.” That was easily one of my favorite moments. Knowing that our team is the type of people who work so hard, and sometimes in such beautifully unconventional ways, filled my heart. After our session, I left lighter than air. To hear the feedback and see the look of success on my teammates’ faces was a feeling I wish I could hold onto forever. And of course, after we worked hard there was a little time to play. Seeing the monuments at night was something else; entirely peaceful and illuminating. Finally, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was unparalleled by anything I’ve seen; it was absolutely astonishing.

Raquel Isaac:

Raquel Isaac
Raquel Isaac

The trip doesn’t really start for me when I leave my house at 5:45 in the morning because I’m still in midterm mode. As soon as I meet up with everyone at Union Station, I finally feel free to strictly turn my focus on the conference. The trip to D.C. was pretty smooth except for the last 30 minutes of our descent. I thought I was the only one who felt a little queasy from that part; but, it turned out that everyone felt a little sick afterwards. I’ve been to D.C. before; but, I feel like I was really able to take in the sights and culture of D.C. during this trip. The drivers pushed the limit on all driving rules I had ever learned.

We worked day and night right up until the conference. I felt as though we finally had some sort of recognition of our work, when we showed up and got our name tags. For a brief moment, when I initially saw everyone from the conference, I wondered about my place as a black woman in this setting. This thought stayed with me right up until we started our presentation. I realized that this is exactly what we’re fighting for, a space in which everyone can have meaningful participation.

Guest contributor: The members of the Right to Learn Undergraduate Research Collaborative.

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