Scholarship Supports Alumna in Elevating Indigenous Voices

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A scholarship honoring the legacy of Maria Copa, the Coast Miwok elder born in the mid-1800s in Marin County, helped Pomo Native Christina Garcia ’24 move closer to her goal of elevating Indigenous voices.

Dominican established the Maria Copa Scholarship as a way to acknowledge that the university occupies the unceded ancestral land of past, present, and future Coast Miwok people. For Christina, who graduated with an undergraduate degree in psychology this spring, the scholarship made it possible to continue her studies at Dominican – a campus she first visited while attending nearby Terra Linda High School.

“The first time I stepped on the land, something about the campus drew me here,” she recalls. “At the time I had no idea it was Indigenous land. Dominican just seemed like an elite, prestigious university that was out of reach.”

Read more about Christina in the Marin Independent Journal.

Now a mom of four, Christina transferred to Dominican last year after receiving her associate’s degree at College of Marin. Christina credits her COM psychology instructor, Dr. Yashica Crawford, as well as the faculty in the college’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services and Student Accessibility Services offices, for encouraging her to not only complete an associate’s degree but also continue with her studies.

“I worked with amazing people at College of Marin who showed me what things could look like, where I could go, and what the process is to get there,” Christina recalls. “I never thought that someone like me – I was a teen mom and a woman of color from a challenging family situation who barely graduated from high school – could possibly one day get a bachelor’s, a master’s or even a PhD one day. But I was shown how it could work. They let me see a pathway to my future and supported me every step of the way I still maintain relationships with these people years later, in addition to getting to serve on a committee at College of Marin which is such a gift.”

Read more about the Dominican transfer process.

Once enrolled in Dominican’s Adult Degree Completion (ADC) program, Christina says she found Dominican to be a welcoming community – particularly in the Department of Psychology – with faculty mentors who provided her with opportunities to serve as a champion for others.

“The ADC program is amazing. It’s designed for someone like me,” Christina says. “It’s unique in its ability to allow working adults and people with families to be able to take care of their life and at the same time do their education.”

Psychology professor Dr. LeeAnn Bartolini supported Christina’s field placement with the grassroots nonprofit Parent Voices. “Christina is committed to social justice and to using psychology to give back to the communities she identifies with, and she is using her lived experiences and the struggles she experienced to make the world a better place,” Bartolini says.

The work culminated with Christina advocating in Sacramento in support of a bill that proposed capping the amount low-income families receiving childcare subsidies must pay in fees. The bill passed and was recently signed by the governor. Fees for qualified families are now capped at one percent – rather than the original ten percent – of family income.

“We collected parent testimony from people who receive low-income child subsidies and rely on affordable childcare. If they were faced with high childcare fees, then they would not be able to finish their education or even work outside the home. This would perpetuate the cycle of poverty, particularly for women of color.”

The experience has solidified Christina’s desire to continue to advocate for D.E.I. initiatives while exploring a career in either education or public health. School districts, she says, must create deeper connections and a greater sense of belonging for Native communities – which have been underrepresented for too long. Integrating Indigenous culture into the curriculum would be a step toward supporting Native American success.

Last year, Christina worked with Miller Creek School District to pitch and then develop a land acknowledgement in collaboration with the Coast Miwok Tribal Council.

Serving on the board of the Marin American Indian Alliance, Christina also collaborated with community partners and other volunteers to organize the Marin PowWow – a celebration of the Indigenous communities that live and work in Marin.

Christina heard about the Maria Copa scholarship not long after transferring to Dominican and joining the Indigenous Partnership Circle, which until then consisted primarily of faculty and staff.

Christina’s longer-term plans include a graduate degree in either law, government, social work, education or public health, as all of these align with her passions and goals to support anti-racism movements to create more equity, inclusion, and diversity and work on helping more social justice movements with a long-term goal of doctorate as few Indigenous woman hold this title.

She recalls as a student getting in trouble when challenging narratives around history, including the way students were taught about Thanksgiving. At the time, she says, her voice was not heard. However, times have changed, and today Christina is inspired by a younger generation leading social change.

“I’m seeing more and more examples of kids open to exploring, changing systems rooted in the past, and doing something that makes them feel good about themselves and their history. I want to continue to lean into allyship and learn how to really do it – to let people around me know that it is OK to have those uncomfortable conversations.”

Her own experiences in Sacramento taught Christina the power of her own voice and actions.

“It was amazing when I was talking at the state level. I was part of something that helped change the lives of millions of people, and I truly believe that the changes we helped create will help some families move away from the cycle of generational poverty – perhaps by being able to buy a home or send their kids to college. I want to continue to work in an area that will let me help break the cycle of generational trauma.”

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