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Meet Liza Calderon-Soto: RA and Social Justice Warrior

 

I met Liza Calderon-Soto on my first night at Gonzaga. As one of Welch’s RAs, she led me and the rest of the second floor down to the lobby, introduced herself, then looked around at all of us and said firmly, “I’m not your mom.”

 

This statement has since proven to be correct. For the past month of school, she has been a resource, an event planner, and a friend to Welch’s residents. Although she is the keeper of the floor’s coveted vacuum cleaner and extra large first aid kit, the similarities between her and our moms end there. She does not harp on us to clean our rooms or give us a curfew. She, like all of the RAs, is primarily concerned with her residents’ safety and well-being. Even though it requires a lot of hard work, Liza appreciates that her job allows her to help people when they need it.

 

Helping people and working hard is something that Liza has been doing since her early childhood. As an immigrant with a unique background, Liza had to grow up quickly. Born in Japan to Peruvian parents, Liza spent most of her first four years in childcare as her mother and father worked long hours at a factory. Unhappy with their inability to spend much time with their daughter, they moved back to Peru and opened two of their own clothing stores. They stayed there until Liza was six years old. Her father had always been passionate about his children being able to go to college, and because the university system in Peru is expensive and acceptance is highly based on personal connections, he decided to move the family to a place where higher education was more accessible. They presented themselves to the United States, and eventually moved to the Seattle area after getting their visas.

 

When they first got here, Liza and her family did not speak English. Thus, Liza was put into a situation that many immigrant children face today: learning another language to help their parents. She learned English in two months. At age six, she was interpreting everything from regular conversation to legal documents for her family. “It was really hard, and I would feel bad when there were things I couldn’t translate for them,” she told me. This pressure, on top of living in a new place, finding her way through unfamiliar surroundings, and missing her extended family back in Peru, made it difficult to adjust to life in the States. Still, the experiences from her childhood have provided Liza with a unique and worldly perspective, toughness and grit, a desire to help others, and a passion for social justice.

 

Liza has incorporated all of these qualities into her job as an RA, especially the last one. She has advocated for more diversity in Residence Life and encouraged residents to engage in discussion of the issues faced by People of Color (POC). Liza’s ideas and involvement in La Raza Latina also helped lead to the formation of the Social Justice Committee among RAs and an increase in activities focusing on intercultural engagement.

 

She loves her job as an RA, even though some people see it as “just being on rounds and getting people in trouble.” There’s a lot of work that goes into it. RAs do patrols and make citations when necessary, but most of their job involves engaging with residents and being a resource to others. They are involved in Take-Tos, event planning, and in committee work within the Residence Hall Association. “And people don’t realize that we’re on the job 24/7,” Liza told me. Between fielding texts from students when they get locked out of their rooms, documenting incidents, planning, and being involved, Liza says that it can be hard to manage her time and be a normal student. Still, she said that the good parts of her job outweigh the difficulties. She loves interacting with people, getting to know them better, and watching them grow as students and people. Liza greatly appreciates the connections she has made with students during her time as an RA.

 

These connections and the connections between people in the community are some of the reasons that Liza chose to come to Gonzaga. She says that even though it’s a small school, it has the same spirit and college feel as a bigger university. “But there’s more to it than just being a welcoming community like everyone says,” said Liza. She commented on the fact that her teachers will go out of their way to talk to and care of their students, going above and beyond their job description, and on how students are willing to listen and open up to each other about personal issues. She especially admires Gonzaga’s response to the recent decision to repeal DACA, and tries to use her position as an RA to promote awareness. She knows that “if you hit the classrooms and residence life, you can make a change.”

 

“There’s so much willingness to learn here,” she said. “People really care for minorities and our issues, and I love that [about Gonzaga.]”

 

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