Stories of Resilience: The George Fox program gives Latino Woodburn secondary school students the opportunity to learn about the humanities and prepare for college


Woodburn teen Lysandra Zaragoza knew she needed to get out of her comfort zone, and the Liberation Scholars program at George Fox University gave her the opportunity to do so.

The aspiring senior of Woodburn’s Academy of International Studies participated in the two-week program that enabled 14 Woodburn Latino students to discuss philosophy, race, gender, education and more under the guidance of a college professor and bilingual college students .

Zaragoza said it felt strong to share thoughts on important topics and to be given a safe space to explore and discuss. It helped her figure out which student she wanted to be in college.

“I’ve really found my independent self shining through during this time,” she said.

After the two weeks of intense humanities, philosophy, literature, and history curriculum, the group will continue to meet twice a month throughout the college application and admissions process. The course is a condensed version of a George Fox Honors course and students receive college credits.

Heather Ohaneson (left) and Bryce Coefield lead a humanities course at George Fox University that is part of a two-week program for Latino high school students. The cohort will continue to meet while they go through the college application process. The Oregonian

The professor who started and directs the Liberation Scholars program was inspired by a similar program she attended at Columbia University. Heather Ohaneson, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at George Fox, applied for a scholarship to give Woodburn Latino teenagers this opportunity. It is funded by the Teagle Foundation, which supports humanities education, and runs for three years.

“We are so proud to tailor our program to our community,” said Ohaneson, who does not speak Spanish.

Guest speakers such as George Fox alumnus Gustavo Vela Moreno, an engineer, and Rep. Teresa Alonso León, who represents Woodburn at Oregon House, shared their experiences and advice as Oregon Latinos working for their communities.

Ohaneson said she wanted to help make disciplines like philosophy more accessible – and she sees this as a matter of justice. People with low socioeconomic status are sometimes pushed out of the humanities because they are given fewer career opportunities, she said – but programs like George Fox’s can fill that void.

“These fields allow you to see what is really nutritious in life,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to be excluded from it.”

She was intrigued to see how students had insights and even disagreed with philosophers like Aristotle because it meant making them feel comfortable and thinking critically, the honorary program faculty member said.

A close-up of a hand holding a highlighter and some sheets of paper, one typewritten and one handwritten.  The hand is in the foreground and in soft focus, while the text on the handwritten paper is in focus in the center frame

Heather Ohaneson, a college professor who initiated and directs the humanities program for Latin American teenagers, said it was important to her to introduce her deeply to philosophy and other humanities. “These fields allow you to see what is really nutritious in life,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to be excluded from it.”
The Oregonian

Ashley Guerra Cervantes, an aspiring senior at Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy, said she was concerned the subjects were too advanced but felt empowered when she realized she was able to take college-level courses complete.

Guerra Cervantes now feels ready for the college application process.

“I’m more comfortable with the idea,” she said. “At first it was so intimidating that I decided not to think about it, but I feel like the more we talk about it, the more possible it becomes.”

As a mentor for the program, up-and-coming George Fox senior Ivette Uribe said she was able to return to the Latino community despite being far from home. She studied psychology and is originally from Southern California with roots in El Salvador and Mexico.

Uribe said the cultural aspects of the program fueled her desire to be a culturally conscious clinical psychologist working with teenagers in Oregon. She said she learned more from the program’s students, who told stories about humanity and resilience, than they learned from her.

“It’s a two-way conversation,” she said. “They teach me what it means to belong somewhere, stories of deep hurt, stories of resilience.”

Saul Rubio Lopez, a student at the Academy of International Studies, enjoyed getting to know the perspectives of his colleagues and connecting through their shared culture. He was initially worried about being away from family for two weeks, but it helped to talk to friends about how much they miss their mothers’ chilaquiles and posole.

“It’s really nice to know that others can identify with you and that you are not alone,” he said. “You feel more comfortable with it.”

Bryce Coefield, a Newberg alderman, hosted one of the program’s seminars, which focused on texts by Frederick Douglass. Giving students a platform to ask and discuss big questions is very effective, he said, as they are not always given that opportunity in the household.

In particular, moments of silence stand out from Coefield, who worked at George Fox from 2017 to 2020. Those moments, he said, may have been the first time students were given the space to explore topics like exploitation and identity.

“On such occasions you can hear directly from the voices of the students, and especially the colored people, how they understand the world and what questions they ask,” he said.

On the far right of the picture, a man is sitting at a desk, one of several arranged in a square.  He is wearing a pink shirt and gesturing with his hands.  Other people sit at other desks in the square.  The surfaces of the desks are covered with books, papers and other items

During Frederick Douglass’ seminar, students discussed topics such as race, gender roles, education and media literacy.The Oregonian

A conversation about machismo or extreme masculinity in Latin American cultures stayed with Susie Montes, a mentor and aspiring senior at George Fox. She said it was challenging to navigate this conversation while understanding her own relationship to the topic.

Montes, who is studying social work and Hispanic cultural studies, took a class on how to lead small groups with Latino students. With this knowledge and a common background with the students, she helped create a safe and understanding space for discussion.

“When I walked in I thought I knew what liberation meant,” she said. “But they only give me more perspectives.”

– April ruby; [email protected]; @AprilMRuby


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