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Xóchitl López

Alum works to make college accessible for all students

Xóchitl López was told she couldn’t do it. She was told she didn’t belong in college. Now she’s working to make sure other students aspiring to pursue higher education don’t face the same stereotypes and challenges that she faced.  

Growing up in in Jalisco, Mexico, López migrated to the Yakima Valley in 2009, with no papers and knowing no English.

“There are stereotypes in our system that tell people like me that they can’t go to college,” says López. “I faced many barriers and people telling me things like, ‘you are undocumented, you can’t go to college,’ or ‘you’re a wife and mother, you can’t go to college, you need to focus on your family’.”

With a dream of learning English, López enrolled in Yakima Valley College’s English Language Acquisition (ELA) program. Finding a love for the community on campus, she quickly realized that she wanted more.

“Learning English was a huge milestone for me,” says López. “It opened doors for me to be able to work here in the United States. Communication is very important, and my English is improving every day. When I first came to the U.S., I would need interpreters to do things like speak to my child’s doctor. I wanted to be able to communicate with them and others on my own.”

After becoming more comfortable with communicating and with inspiration from her parents’ love of business, she enrolled in YVC’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) Business Administration certificate program.

“My parents, they [operate] a business, so I decided to start in business,” she said.

Through the I-BEST program and building relationships and support on campus, López discovered her passion for connecting with other students and helping empower them to succeed. It was then that she decided to take her education event further, earning an associate degree in business management with a marketing certificate.

Xóchitl López
Xóchitl López talks with students about the benefits of college in YVC's Hopf Union Building on the Yakima Campus.

Wanting to help other YVC students make the jump from adult education programs to college-level programs, she helped found the Connection Bridge to College student club. The club works to help students in ELA and other adult education courses locate resources and support their transition into YVC’s certificate and degree programs.

“As a non-traditional student, who came from Mexico, I didn’t speak any English. So when I made the decision to go to college [and take] English classes I knew it was going to be hard. I had to navigate the system and find support,” she said. “I saw this as an opportunity to [help other] students so that they know how to navigate the college.”

Now López works as the Central Washington organizer for Communities for our Colleges, an advocacy group working to help break down the barriers students often face when hoping to attend college. In her role she helps encourage students to attend college and supports the organization’s larger mission to make community colleges more equitable and accessible for local communities.

“I believe that education opens the door for your dreams,” said López. “I discovered my passion here at YVC and it’s a big reason why I motivate the community to go to the college now.”

“I always tell people,” says López, “it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you’re going. The sky is infinite, and so are the opportunities. It doesn’t matter if you’re a traditional or non-traditional student; you have to decide to keep moving forward and say, ‘I’m going to do it’.”

She is currently working towards a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Washington State University.

Story by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant. Photos by Matt Barton, graphic designer/multimedia content producer, and provided by Xóchitl López.