Stirring up Compassion and Support

Viviana de la Torre smooths the path for other first-gen students.

Viviana de la Torre’s freshman year at Regis was challenging. Between questioning her major and juggling school with a job as a certified nursing assistant, de la Torre (who goes by Vivi) also experienced culture shock as a Latina on a majority white campus and a first-generation college student navigating the University on her own. “Acclimating to college was a big struggle,” de la Torre said. “I had several conversations with my parents about wanting to transfer out.”

But she was willing to give Regis another shot, and two key shifts her sophomore year helped.

First, she switched her major.

Second, toward the end of her freshman year, de la Torre landed a job with Regis’ Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence, working as a student lead for Stephanie Colunga Montoya, the office’s associate director. There, she helped Montoya establish programs to help first-generation students avoid some of the struggles she experienced her freshman year.

This year, de la Torre’s senior year, the programs are especially important at Regis, because first-generation students made up about one-third of the incoming freshman class.

“We [first-generation students] don’t really have parents who helped us fill out FAFSA or parents that knew what steps I needed to do to apply,” de la Torre said. “Everything that I had to do to get to my seat in that classroom, I had to figure out on my own or with the help of college counselors or professors.”

Through programming put on by the diversity office, as well as 1LEADS, a student-led club that de la Torre helped start last spring, she and others aim to provide first-generation students with the resources to navigate college and the space to share experiences, build relationships with other first-generation students, and connect with a campus counselor—all things that would have improved her own freshman-year experience.

Part of her freshman-year struggle stemmed from her initial choice of major. De la Torre had chosen pre-nursing with the goal of eventually working as a prison nurse—but mostly, she wanted to work in the prison system or with former prisoners. Her first year, she realized she didn’t enjoy her science classes but relished Intro to Sociology, as well as the teaching of Jazmin A. Muro, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Anthropology, Sociology and Criminal Justice. “I really wanted [Muro] to be my advisor, so I ended up switching to sociology,” de la Torre said.

De la Torre found Muro, also Latina, to be someone she could relate to. “She... held me to higher expectations,” de la Torre said, “because she saw in me something more than I knew I was capable of.”

Under Muro’s guidance, de la Torre settled on a major in sociology and peace and justice, with a minor in criminal justice, as a way of pursuing her career path. Now, in her final year at Regis, de la Torre is a deputy probation officer for Jefferson County, just outside Denver. She enjoys the job, but she’s also struck by the complexity of circumstances that have led her clients to commit crimes. “I feel like my classes have really opened my mind to seeing that not everything is black and white,” she said. “There’s a lot of background information and a lot of other struggles that people go through.”

This understanding stirs up compassion, as well as a desire to provide support to people who may otherwise be entirely on their own—a theme that’s also at play in de la Torre’s work with the diversity office.

“Not everyone has access to resources and not everyone knows of the resources available to them,” de la Torre said. “I love the idea that I get to be the person that helps someone achieve all the goals and all the dreams they have.”