Research study explored upbringings of four school administrators; one participant had to convince her parents to let her move away for college



Katherine Rodela, assistant professor at WSU Vancouver’s College of Education, said the main takeaway from the study is that the culture and struggles people of color grew up with are what makes them strong leaders.

From fourth grade until 12th grade, it was normal for Gregorio to pick asparagus every morning before heading to school.

“It was a part of his life,” said Katherine Rodela, assistant professor at WSU Vancouver’s College of Education. 

Gregorio grew up in the Tri-Cities living with his parents who were farmworkers. Gregorio is one of the four participants in a study regarding Latinx school administrators and how their upbringings led them to the position they are in today. 

Rodela said the main takeaway from the study is that the culture and struggles people of color grow up with are what makes them strong leaders.

Two participants in the study were principals, she said, and the other two were assistant principals at the time of the interview. All participants are first-generation college students.

“A lot of them had really tough upbringings,” Rodela said.

She asked the participants about their childhood and if they faced any struggles growing up. One participant, whose name is Josie, had to convince her parents to let her move away for college.

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica, assistant professor at Santa Clara University’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology, said Josie’s dad did not let her live in a dorm because she was not married yet. 

“No girl leaves the house until [she’s] married,” Rodriguez-Mojica said. “I definitely could relate to that. We see that in a lot of communities, and particularly within the Latino community that I grew up with.”

She said Josie ended up fabricating a letter from a university that she mailed to herself and read for her family to hear. The letter stated that she won a scholarship that would cover her room and board. 

Josie’s dad still did not want her to go, Rodriguez-Mojica said. Josie’s grandmother happened to be in the same room, who ended up advocating for Josie.

When they placed this anecdote in their study, they wanted to ensure that Josie’s story was written in her perspective, Rodriguez-Mojica said. That perspective is that she had to challenge a cultural norm to get where she is at.

“Josie didn’t see that her dad was this horrible, mean guy that made her lie,” Rodriguez-Mojica said. “It just was part of her experience and this is what she did and now she’s a leader.”

Rodela said while they developed the study, she referred to a model crafted by Tara Yosso, a professor from University of California. Yosso’s model was based on Latino college students. 

People oftentimes see people of color based on the disadvantages they face rather than the strengths they actually have, she said. The model, which is called Community Cultural Wealth, points out six types of “wealth” that people of color have.

One of the six is called linguistic capital, Rodela said, which is the skill of being bilingual. Another is familial capital, which means the ability to have strong ties with their family. Social capital refers to relationships with their “vecinos,” or their neighbors.

Aspirational capital is their ability to dream and hope, she said. Navigational capital refers to the ability to navigate through institutions that were primarily set up for white, English-speaking, middle-class individuals. Resistant capital means having to face challenges and racism directly. 

Rodela said their study resonated with her because, in the past, she tried to advance her career as a teacher. She was discouraged and was told to “get more experience” before doing so, she said. 

“I remember being so upset by that because I was the only … Latina teacher there on staff,” she said. “I felt really unsupported.”

Rodela said having the study published on Educational Administration Quarterly is a big deal because the journal does not publish much about race. With this study, she said she hopes to inspire people of color who want to become educators. 

“Just because you don’t look like some of the folks in charge or other teachers — it doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact,” she said. “Sometimes you have the most powerful one.”