This past January, the Southwestern College Governing Board welcomed its newest member to the crew, Leticia Cazares. Leticia is no stranger to Southwestern College and the South Bay community. She’s a former student and native of Chula Vista. After being a proud student at Southwestern College for four semesters, Leticia transferred to San Francisco State University, where she earned her bachelor’s in psychology. She later went on to earn her masters in public health from San Diego State University. She has been able to put these degrees and skills to good use by dedicating more than 20 years to advancing the overall health of disadvantaged communities in San Diego, focusing primarily in the South County, through her work with San Ysidro Health Center.
Like many college students, Leticia has first-hand experience and knowledge of how difficult it can be to focus on school while combating personal issues and conflicts. Although Leticia struggled as a student, she knows that what she experienced made her a better and stronger version of herself.
“I consider myself lucky to be given a second chance, and I believe it’s my job to give back to the Southwestern College community,” she said. “I think I experienced what I did for a reason, and my experiences will help me relate to students and understand their needs.”
I recently sat down with Leticia to learn more about her connection to Southwestern College, why she chose to run and the upcoming goals of the Governing Board by reading below.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am a native to Chula Vista and both my parents were also raised in San Diego, so I definitely have deep roots here in South Bay. I grew up with incredible values from my parents, and those are equality, community and integrity.
What was your time as a student at Southwestern College like?
I was a student here from 1991 through 1994 and as nontraditional as you could get. I never really felt like I fit in or belonged to any group on campus. That’s not to say I wasn’t given access to services or they weren’t available to me, but I was experiencing some emotional and mental health challenges when I was a student here. I think that when you are experiencing personal challenges, your world shrinks. My advice to current students would be to ask for help and know that you’re not alone.
Why did you decide to run for the Governing Board?
I want to be a voice for the students. I grew up with everything I needed, but I had some personal challenges in high school and my younger years. These challenges affected my personal life, my studies and my relationship with my family. When I was a student here at Southwestern College, I had a lot of support around me. It’s hard enough for those of us that had support, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for students who have nowhere to go and nobody to ask for help. I believe that I went through the personal experiences I did for a reason, and now they will help me in being a voice for students. I think that I represent many of the students who come to community colleges with the life challenges that happen outside of school, such as personal and financial challenges. These can really keep you from being able to focus on school.
What are some of the upcoming goals of the Governing Board?
First and foremost, we really want to make sure that students and employees feel safe, heard and valued. We can accomplish that by being more accessible and available for listening and learning, we want to reach these goals in a way that hasn’t been done before. I bring a truly community-centered approach to leading and governing, not just by showing up at an event or two, but by actually being part of the culture and the student life here. Also by being present mentally and really connecting to the students and campus community. As a board, we want the students to know we are here for you, will fight for you and are committed to you. Students and their needs are not one-size-fits-all, and the services available to them shouldn’t be either.
What do you love most about Southwestern College?
Southwestern College has such a family and community feel to it. I look at Southwestern College in the same light I see the South Bay community as a whole — it’s a “small big city”. There is just such a deep bond, roots, culture and history. I do feel that it is what has helped us as a college overcome our adversities, and there have been several over the years. I think that is what’s going to move us forward and advance us even more.