Full of students brimming with idealism and hoping to change the world, college campuses have long been a safe haven and training ground for advocates of underrepresented voices. That rings even truer for California State University, Northridge, a pioneer in the field of Deaf studies and home to the National Center on Deafness. Deaf studies junior Ana Maritza Rivera is a shining example of Matador students and faculty who are driven to serve the Deaf and Latina/o communities.
In spring 2019, Rivera will make CSUN history when she goes to Washington, D.C., to participate in the CSUN in D.C. Internship Program and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Internship Program. Rivera is the university’s first Deaf studies major to participate in the internship, according to professor Lawrence Becker, coordinator of the CSUN in D.C. Internship program, where she will have the opportunity to work for members of Congress and get in-depth insights into public policy. Through workshops and experience in a government office, she said she wants to learn about how she can use policy to become a stronger advocate for people with disabilities.
Sponsored by CSUN’s Department of Political Science in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the annual CSUN in D.C. program offers internships to 45 to 50 students. They gain experience working in government offices, agencies and advocacy groups in the nation’s capital.
Rivera didn’t plan to major in Deaf studies with a special option in political science, but a nudge in the right direction inspired her to pursue a newfound passion for American Sign Language (ASL).
“My mom just wanted me to take a foreign language,” Rivera said. Growing up in a Latino household at Hacienda Heights, she said, taking Spanish would have been the default choice. However, she wanted to pursue something more unusual, to make a difference in society.
“I picked ASL because it was rare,” Rivera said. With fewer individuals able to communicate in ASL, especially among the hearing, she knew she could help be a voice for a minority. “I took one ASL class at a community college and fell in love. I felt it was my calling. Now here I am in CSUN!”
Rivera took chances, even when she was unsure of the end result, she said. Choosing political science as her concentration within her major evolved from, “I’m not into political science!” to seeing politics as an instrument for social change, she noted. That change of heart proved to be the catalyst for the next significant milestone in her blossoming career.
The CSUN in D.C. Internship Program was brought to Rivera’s attention by her sociology professor, Daniel Olmos, who informed his class about the opportunity. Reluctance shrouded the rest of the class, but Rivera, undeterred, took the chance. Further encouragement came from Becker, who told her, “You’ll be the first Deaf studies (DS) major we send out to D.C.!”
Rivera saw the internship as an opportunity to combine her Latina heritage, understanding of the Deaf community and knowledge of politics, she said.
“I always try to expand the horizons of being a DS major. There’s more to DS than just being a counselor, interpreter or a teacher,” Rivera said.
After graduation, she plans to use her expertise in Deaf studies and public policy to aid persons with disabilities in a new way. People with disabilities — especially those of color — face immense challenges in employment, preventing them from participating as actively as they wish in society, she said. By starting her own business, which would provide individual learning support and other resources, Rivera aims to help people “get jobs and start their lives.” She hopes the D.C. internship will equip her even more for her career.
As a student, Rivera said, she searched diligently for ways to advance her career and improve herself. She encouraged other CSUN students to do the same.
“Do your homework, if you really want to be successful,” Rivera said. “Explore the endless opportunities CSUN has to offer and don’t hold back. I [also] think everyone should take a class in ASL, or another specialized class, to be more informed.”
Rivera will travel to D.C. to start this new chapter in her college experience in January.
For more information on the CSUN in D.C. Internship program, visit https://www.csun.edu/social-behavioral-sciences/political-science/dc-internship.