MURALS winners excited to impact younger students of color

Jennifer Gomez and Lizeth Arellano pose with their research poster
Jennifer Gomez and Lizeth Arellano with their award-winning research poster

Story by Sabrina Robinson

Three distinguished students won awards at the 2019 Multicultural Undergraduate Research, Art and Leadership Symposium at Colorado State University. MURALS allows students of color to display their work from various disciplines, including creative writing, visual arts, social science, humanities, service learning, and social justice. Luis Angel Santacruz won first place for creative arts; Jennifer Gomez and Lizeth Arellano won in Social Justice and Inclusion.

“The mission behind this event is to create a space for students to network and participate in academic workshops to better prepare them for continuing their education,” said Gomez.

“It’s super awesome because there are other showcases that display undergrad work, but this one kind of hones it on multicultural awareness,” said Santacruz.

‘Diverse ways of thinking’

All three students are connected to the School of Education’s Caminos Program, as current or upcoming CSU student mentors for local high school students. A partnership between CSU’s School of Education and El Centro Cultural Center, and Fort Collins High School, the Caminos Program provides education pathways to Latinx and Indigenous students. Caminos incorporates service learning, along with aspirational career planning and college readiness, through positive relationships with CSU student mentors and valuable community connections.

“The symposium is important for myself and other students of color because often the lived experiences of people of color are overlooked or silenced,” said Gomez, an undergraduate studying human development and family studies. “We have such diverse ways of thinking and expressing ourselves that is often not included in the narrative, so having a place where our work shines is a beautiful thing.”

Together Gomez and Arellano presented their work in the Caminos Program. For Gomez, her work in the Caminos Program hits close to home. As a first generation student, she knew she wanted to go to college, but found the lack of resources limiting and discouraging. Now she hopes to work with students in the same position she was.

“When I was in their position, I really felt hopeless,” said Gomez. “I attended the second-lowest performing school in the state. My high school’s priority was to either get kids into the military, into technical schools, or just keep them out of jail. I was a product of my environment, but with resilience and a strong familial support, I was able to get accepted into a four year university with a full scholarship.”

Using art to shed light on current issues

Luis Angel Santacruz's research poster and artwork
Award-winning research poster and original art by Luis Angel Santacruz

An art student, Santacruz showcased a family portrait along with his research on the representation of people of color in contemporary art and art history. Having taken three courses in art history, Santacruz saw a lack of emphasis on the artwork from people of color.

“We go through western art and the origins of art, maybe through Egypt or other places, but mostly it’s going to be centralized and focused on westernized art,” he said. “We do talk about some African art, Asian art, but it’s kind of a side thing. It’s not part of the core curriculum.”

Santacruz has always loved art and said it runs in his family. While working on the painting he later presented at the symposium and researching the artwork of people of color, Santacruz took inspiration from his favorite artist, Kehinde Wiley, who painted President Obama’s portrait. He hadn’t considered participating in the MURALS symposium until his cousin recommend he do so.

“I’m glad I did,” said Santacruz. “It got me to think about my work. I already had the painting, and I knew there was symbolism behind it, but then I put it all together.”

Santacruz hopes to continue bringing to light the issues surrounding people of color, specifically undocumented immigrants, through his passion for art. Additionally, as a future Caminos Program fellow, he’ll have the opportunity to mentor the high school students via art.

“I’d like to showcase my identities, my artwork, and then use that to apply to grad schools,” he said. “We’re kind of showing this academic environment that we have all this research and all this work that we’ve done, and we get to showcase it just as well as anyone else.”

The 2020 MURALS will take place on March 27. Students interested in participating are encouraged to submit proposals online.

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.