Marisa Quezada ’22 knows the power of data. As a high school student interested in history, she found that what she really wanted to know about was people and communities. Her interest in cultures led her to explore the sociology major at Chapman. “I thought, that’s so cool that you can study how people are interacting with each other and it’s scientific. You can prove things with it. I thought that was really empowering to be able to lead social justice conversations through a sociological perspective.”

Last summer, she had the opportunity to put her coursework into practice in her hometown, where she helped to launch a student-led, antiracism advocacy group in the Capistrano Unified School District. Quezada coded hundreds of personal testimonials about racism and has since used that collected data to effect positive changes within the district.

“I was able to present concrete evidence such as ‘this percent of the population said that there was verbal racism from one student to another student,’ and ‘this percent of people said that teachers were being racist to them.’ I met with the deputy superintendent of CUSD and presented all of this data to him and said, ‘This is what’s happening on our campuses.’”

Working with the CUSD Board of Trustees, CUSD Against Racism has since passed a resolution denouncing all acts of racism, intolerance and unlawful discrimination, gotten student representation in the district’s cultural proficiency task force, and galvanized the district to pilot an ethnic studies course, among other local civic action efforts.

Though it was 2020’s national Black Lives Matter movement that first inspired Quezada, she believes that local efforts are more important than ever if lasting social change is going to happen. “I think it has to come from people in our community because that’s who they’re going to listen to. They’re not going to listen to someone completely random, they’re going to listen to a community member, a family member, and that’s why it’s so important to have difficult conversations with a family, because it’s hard and uncomfortable. But having these hard conversations is the only way that we’re going to be able to move the needle forward.”

President Struppa has nominated Quezada to be Chapman’s Newman Civic Fellow for the 2021-22 academic year, an award that recognizes and supports college students who have demonstrated a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country, provides training and resources to further students’ capacities for civic engagement and emphasizes preparation for the long-term work of public problem solving and building equitable communities.