Tessa Hicks-Peterson, Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement

Tessa Hicks-Peterson, Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement and Associate Professor of Urban Studies, talks about Pitzer College’s commitment to the values of social justice and intercultural understanding and how that will continue in the fall.


Hi everyone. My name is Tessa Hicks Peterson. I am Assistant Vice President for Community Engagement at Pitzer College. I’m also an Associate Professor in Urban Studies and I direct our program CASA, which stands for Critical Advocacy and Social Action. I’m going to talk to you today about why a Pitzer College education is so important this fall, 2020 in particular. I think that we are in unprecedented times right now, obviously, as it relates to having a pandemic that’s raging globally, as well as uprisings that are also happening globally, to address and try to disrupt the racial injustice that exists in our country, and to build a better future where health disparities for the most vulnerable in our population are not making some people drastically more vulnerable to the pandemic. And these are things that have been existing since the beginning of time, but we have more interest and energy now to address them. And I think at Pitzer, what’s lovely, is that you get to do that as part of your education not separate from it. You get to be working in and with communities on issues of a variety of justice issues, from immigration, to incarceration, to education, to food justice, to arts and culture, to health and elections. Right now, this is more important than ever, and our community partners that we work with want us to be doing this work with them now, digitally, online, through Zoom. It’s different than in person. But it’s critically important that we continue to work right now and not abandon ship just because we can’t be in person together. I also think that Zoom classes can be engaging. I’ve been doing Zoom classes all throughout the summer, and we’ve been doing meditation, poetry, music, small group discussions, pair discussions, all kinds of things that are really intimate and important ways to converse and connect at this time. And we’ve been doing it all through Zoom and it’s been really, actually, quite powerful. And I feel confident that we’re going to continue that in the fall.

I also want to say that I think right now more than ever, Pitzer is pretty distinct because we really are committed to these values of social justice and intercultural understanding. And I think that this is where I want to be putting my energy right now. So it would be weird not to be doing the work with the folks who’ve been doing it for so long and connected to some, your studies. Losing the momentum by not coming back this fall means that it’s so much harder to re-engage. And I’ll tell you from my own personal experience, I studied abroad in college when I was 20. And I was so inspired by immersing myself in another culture and language and community, and when I came back, I thought I should drop out of school and continue doing that. And I did. I dropped out of school, and I worked at home with local organizations. And that was really great and important, but it also was disconnecting and it was really hard to jump back into school after that, and I missed school. I wanted to be in a space where I could talk with my peers and professors and mentors, about how to do the work that was so important to me. I was doing social justice work at that time, 25 years ago, I still am today. And I can tell you like we don’t have to have a binary between doing it out in the streets or doing it at home, or doing it in school, we can do it all together. And getting credit for the work as you’re doing it and learning with your peers is really important. So I hope you’ll all come back and join us in the fall for another great year at Pitzer College.