The Paths of Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars


The Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) is a living-learning community that explores issues of diversity, inequality, social justice, and social change. Named after the late Esther Madríz, beloved USF professor of sociology who embodied the Ignatian ideals of education of the whole person as a means toward social justice, Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars examine and challenge these boundaries to gain a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The program approaches hip-hop through sociological frameworks to explore the role of poverty, globalization, immigration, racism, sexism, homophobia, unemployment, incarceration, and urban marginality. During winter break students participate in a transborder travel experience (previous destinations include: Cuba, New York City, Marseille, and more) to gain new perspectives on social problems and their solutions.

Below are excerpts from some of the EMDS Cohort 12’s reflections on their experience during fall and winter of this year:

Natalie Mills, Kinesiology ’20

We started our curriculum with learning about the sociology of hip-hop. I grew up with my papa rapping, “I said a hip-hop, hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hop, and you don’t stop,” to me and my brother, making us giggle. Through the EMDS program, I soon discovered that songs like “Rapper’s Delight” were pivotal points in the history of hip-hop. We have learned about the influences from Barbados and Jamaica, and how Afrika Bambatta turned the practices of yard parties into one of the integral elements of hip-hop: djing. The history and art of the Bronx that emerged from the struggle of black and brown folks has inspired me. I also learned about the politics surrounding the art of graffiti, which opened my eyes to government’s systematic oppression of youth of color.  The art of hip-hop can be explained as a means of resistance and a loud voice of the struggle.

Chaniece Jefferson, Art History ’19

One particular reading, Reflection in Service Learning: Making Meaning in Experience, helped me and my fellow students begin a dialogue about cultural competence. My cohort has provided a space for me to see things in new perspectives and challenge ideas. An issue we have discussed thoroughly is around gentrification, and how we as college students can be seen as gentrifiers ourselves in San Francisco. One memorable event that I was able to attend was a showing of the documentary film Dolores We had the honor and privilege of meeting Dolores Huerta herself, and it was a life-changing experience. Meeting someone who has sacrificed so much for her activism shifted my way of thinking and made rethink the roles I’m in and how I could become more like her. Most importantly, it made me rethink about what I would like to do with my college education and what I want to do in life.

Isaac Baron, Politics ’20

For my community work, I’ve had the privilege of working with San Francisco Rising on the College for All campaign. This has been an experience that I felt allowed me to recognize the level of privilege I have as a student pursuing higher education. It has made me reflect on my experience back home in Santa Barbara, and the economic disparity and how that parallels the educational disparity as well. Many of the people I grew up with either did not finish high school or did not pursue an education beyond it, so the idea of holding an internship with a community organization while attending an institution of higher learning never really crossed my mind growing up. In this way, I feel that the program has allowed me to cross a border set in an economic class that I never thought I would cross. The campaign that we’re working on through San Francisco Rising would make public education through California public colleges and universities free by establishing a grant funded by a tax that would cover tuition costs for students. This would make higher education more accessible to those who see their personal economic situation as a barrier. 

Alegra Bauder, Fine Arts ’20

The experience we had traveling to New York and to Washington D.C. is one that I will always cherish. Meeting and engaging with all of the people and organizations was a privilege and enhanced what we had learned over the semester. At Howard University and One D.C., I saw how gentrification and urban renewal affects other communities outside of San Francisco. In New York, and especially in the Bronx, seeing everything we had learned about the culture and world of hip-hop came to life, and it was incredible. I think that going to different boroughs and communities within the city helped me to fully grasp the long-term effects of what we had studied, such as planned shrinkage and benign neglect. Seeing it first hand, it’s obvious that the injustices that occurred in neighborhoods there are still evident today. By engaging with other communities, my EMDS cohort has begun to better understand our own communities in San Francisco.

Check out the slideshow from Cohort 12’s trip to New York and Washington, D.C.:

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Reflection on Tolman

David Donahue Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center

David Donahue
Director, Leo T. McCarthy Center

As I prepare to teach “Urban School Reform,” an elective in the Masters of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I googled William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the school where I began my teaching career over thirty years ago as a student teacher. 1024px-Pawtucket_HSThe first page of entries included links with titles like, “Pawtucket launches inquiry into student ‘takedown’ at Tolman” and “Students pepper-sprayed, cuffed during Tolman HS protest.” The first three entries on the Wikipedia page for the high school are “Thanksgiving football rivalries,” “dropout rate,” and “security issues.” According to the Wikipedia report, only 54% of the schools first year students go on to graduate, a dropout rate that resulted in the school being labeled a “dropout factory” in a Johns Hopkins study. The security issues section is a depressing catalog of shootings and violence in and around the school. I’m not sure what’s sadder: that the school began requiring photo IDs for all students to improve security or that the photo ID program was eventually dropped for lack of funding. The district is considered the most racially diverse in the state. It’s also one of the poorest. Approximately 70% of the school’s students qualify for free lunch. The photo of Tolman reminded me that even in the 1980s almost all the windows had been replaced by glass bricks, allowing opaque light into classrooms, but leaving no possibility for gazing outside. The online picture of Tolman High School follows a familiar narrative of urban public education: Schools serving mostly poor, mostly students of color, places of violence, places of academic despair.

I know from my experience teaching at Tolman there and my subsequent years working with teachers in districts like Oakland and San Francisco that this is such a biased and incomplete picture of urban schools . What stands out from my experience at Tolman is the brilliance and hard work of students. I remember students from Puerto Rico, Cape Verde, and Cambodia in my 11th grade U.S. history class navigating the English they were still learning to debate whether the city should have a nativity scene in front of City Hall during Christmas, to discuss whether it was fair that only “natural born” citizens could become President of the United States, and to share with each other a “coming to America story” from their own lives or someone in their family. Those who doubt the intelligence of adolescents should have observed that class. This very first teaching experience convinced me about the truth behind a statement that has almost become cliché: All children can learn. Those who say that urban school teachers are lazy and academically mediocre should have met my cooperating teacher, a man with a PhD from Notre Dame who returned to teach at Tolman, the high school he graduated from, because he believed in public education. His dedication, thoughtfulness, and intelligence were inspiring. Sadly, stories of urban school failure focus on the actors — students and teachers — as the problem, rather than the larger political and economic contexts that result in the unequal distribution of resources for education, the segregation of children by race, and the reproduction and legitimization of inequality in our nation. My years of teaching children and working with teachers convince me that children and teachers are not the problem. Larger social inequities are. Meaningful school reform has to be part of larger efforts to eradicate poverty, end racism, and strengthen democracy.

My experience teaching and preparing others to work in urban schools shapes my elective course on urban school reform in the United States. While school reform suffers no shortage of market driven calls to tear schools down in order to rebuild them, I’ve come to understand that creating schools to support meaningful, rigorous, and joyful learning requires listening to a variety of perspectives, including those of teachers and students as well as researchers and policy makers. My experience also teaches me that schools do not stand apart from society but reflect and reproduce it. As part of the course, we will hold a joint class with students from a nearby San Francisco public high school. We will also interact with teachers and administrators in the middle of making city schools work for diverse students to hear voices that are not always reflected in monographs of school reform. We will work with Californians for Justice, an Oakland-based advocacy organization, to document the benefits of social emotional learning so they can make the case for strategies to support students of color, immigrant students, LGBTQ students, and students from low income families in urban schools. My goal is to spend as much time learning in and from real teachers, students, and social justice advocates as from the scholars who can provide us with new lenses to understand urban education.

Far from a place of despair, Tolman remains for me a place of hopefulness, not because it works as it is, but because it’s not impossible to imagine schools that do work for the students who go there. I still believe classrooms are places of joy and possibility, of transformation and growth. That’s why I so look forward to teaching my first class at USF this fall. I can’t wait to work with the students in Urban Affairs to understand why city schools are the way they are, to imagine them as they could be, and to begin working towards more just and equitable education for young people in the Bay Area.


Changing Transportation: My Path from USF to Sacramento

Simonds train photoshoot

Shannon Simonds
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs ’16
Transportation Planner, Caltrans

When I started at Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program at the University of San Francisco I just knew that I was interested in understanding the opportunities to mitigate climate change through urban transportation policies and planning. To be working for the state of California as a transportation planner at Caltrans just two years later as an alumna of the Urban Affairs program is still a little crazy to me; but also very exciting.

As a graduate student, I tailored my classes and research to focus on different aspects of transportation as it relates to the environment and urban spaces—and it worked! I get to work in the field I studied and get to learn something new every day. I currently work on the Rail Planning team developing the 2018 State Rail Plan. I am working to coordinate commuter, regional and intercity trains with freight and local bus routes to create a truly integrated, state-wide system. I like that I get to learn about a new area of transportation for me—rail while bringing in a new perspective that tries to incorporate climate sensitivities and equity into the rail planning processes.

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What Narrative Will Emerge from the National Conventions?

Tenoch Flores

Tenoch Flores
Adjunct Professor, Political Communications
Master of Public Affairs and Practical Politics

During my time as Communications Director for the California Democratic Party, I was responsible for developing and implementing the message and narrative for a total of five annual state party conventions, as well as for the California delegation to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in 2012. This month, both of the nation’s main political parties are preparing to hold their quadrennial national conventions in Cleveland (RNC) and Philadelphia (DNC). Here’s what I can tell you about working to set and advance a narrative during the largest political event of the season: it’s not easy.

Even in the age of social media, custom news feeds and unprecedented personal access, the national party conventions represent the single greatest opportunity both political parties have to project a narrative about their party and their candidates to the electorate. Almost every political observer will be watching and a sizable portion of voters will take in at least the headlines and the main themes that emerge. Continue reading

Life is Not Linear – Learning to Fight for Equity, Diversity, and Democracy in San Francisco


David Woo
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs candidate ’17

I decided late last summer to apply to the Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program at the University of San Francisco (USF) in a move to change my career path. As an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), I studied both chemistry and sociology. While I was passionate about both fields, upon graduating I ended up working with the Environmental, Health, and Safety department at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) in the chemical safety department. While the work I was doing was important, I was not doing the type and scope of work that I truly wanted to do – that is work that addresses issues surrounding social justice. After moving back home to San Francisco after graduating UCSC, there were apparent differences brought about by the technology boom. Increased displacement, skyrocketing housing prices, and a general feeling of unease as trendy boutiques went up in the place of longtime neighborhood serving establishments.

After leaving my job at UCSF I took some time off to reconsider what I wanted out of my career. The serious crisis in San Francisco brought about by rising economic inequality was in full force and my desire to get involved in social justice work ultimately led me to the Urban Affairs program at USF. While I was unsure if I was too late to apply, the staff at the USF McCarthy center took the time to respond to all my questions and helped me get an application in very quickly, well past the official deadline to apply to the program. Having previously been interested in sociology, political activism, and social change movements in college, the interdisciplinary focus of the program seemed like a great fit. Continue reading