Sylvia Navarro Hernandez, a fourth year student majoring in Cognitive Sciences and Gender & Sexuality students, minoring in Education, is the founder of UCI's Brave Spaces. Brave Spaces is a pioneering new program, developed by students and faculty at UCI’s Cross Cultural Center, the Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR), and the School of Education. In this program, undergraduates are given opportunities to explore community-based research interests, gain hands-on inquiry and academic experience, and advocate for change in school and community environments through the creation and dissemination of digital stories. This three-pronged approach is intended to leverage students’ interests and community ties in service of building powerful literacies, academic research skills, and digital toolkits. (See program description below.)
When asked about the rationale behind her advocating for Brave Spaces, Sylvia explains,
Brave Spaces came about my 3rd year at UCI as politics, student narratives, and personal experiences seemed to create this sense of helplessness and inaction in various environments. During that this time, I was hearing from Hannah Jones, assistant director of the Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) Center, about the power of our narratives and how that has helped her in her pursuit to build spaces where people from historically underrepresented/underserved communities. I enrolled in a course with Dr. Viet Vu where he shared a wealth of resources through which one can reach people. Within this course (EDUC 30: 21st Century Literacies), I got my first exposure to digital stories telling and the way in which students were able to use this platform to creatively express the impact that historically oppressive environments had on their families, and how digital storytelling could be used as a means to heal and share their story.
Seeing all this power surrounding one's narrative, I wanted to create a space where students were able to delve into their communities, critically analyze what it means to navigate institutions that may not be set up to support them, and go past this theoretical framework to initiate projects that directly serve their communities during their time at UCI. This program is meant to serve a gap in our education by providing students with the agency and support to initiate projects to address issues of inequity in their environment, using the power of their narrative as a means to empower these initiatives. By leading from their narratives, as Hannah calls it, students can become more authentic leaders (Hannah again) who truly understand the issues that are impacting people in their community and can work to create equitable means to address them during their time at UCI. This program provides students the opportunity to move past ideation to action by gaining the tools and support to construct their programs for change.
Dr. Vu adds, "We believe that this type program, facilitated by student-led activism and networked and digital technologies to produce narratives and counternarratives about issues that matter to students, can lead to deep civic, academic, and personal learning for the students involved and structural changes in students’ social spheres."
About Brave Spaces: Students enrolled in Brave Spaces take a series of three courses through a year-long program offered through the Cross-Cultural Center and the School of Education.
Viet Vu, Sylvia Navarro Hernandez, Kathy Dong (Student Development Coordinator Cross Cultural Center, Hannah Jones (Assistant Director, SOAR)