Part of the UC-Hispanic Serving Institutions Doctoral Diversity Initiative, the UC President’s Pre-Professoriate Fellowship works towards advancing historically underrepresented students from California Hispanic Serving Institutions into the professoriate. Only three UC Berkeley doctoral students are eligible to receive the fellowship; with several factors being taken into consideration, ranging from research ability to desires to continue works of advocacy into their professoriate careers. Through her work as a graduate student researcher with the Abundant Birth Project as well as her Diversity and Community Fellowship, Monica De La Cruz has earned the UC Berkeley’s UC President’s Pre-Professoriate Fellowship. Below, Monica details her journey to Berkeley, the work she put in to receive this prestigious fellowship, and how she plans on advocating for changing academia from within. 

Monica De La Cruz

Monica De La Cruz

Tell us about your journey to Berkeley and how you got here. Why did you choose Berkeley?

Monica De La Cruz: Prior to college, school for me was a constant site of being othered. I attended majority white elementary, middle, and high schools. Though I enjoyed learning, these settings continually reproduced my feelings of being an outsider, as I was always one of the few students of color. In these settings, mentorship for students of color was severely lacking because of very few faculty of color, and I often questioned my “place” in academia as someone who identified as Filipinx.

After high school, I had my first child shortly after completing my first semester in community college. Being the only student parent in my classes felt isolating and lonely, again stirring up old feelings of not belonging. I often felt that no one understood the challenges I was facing; taking care of a young child while working part-time and attempting to transfer to a four-year university was an uphill climb. However, with the support and mentorship of professors and peer advocates at City College of San Francisco and eventually San Francisco State University (SFSU) who generously gave me their time and advice, I completed my bachelor’s degree and was ready for the next stage of my career.

My graduate education and extracurricular activities at UC Berkeley have provided me the scaffolding needed for a successful career in academia

Monica De La Cruz
Monica De La CruzUC Berkeley Social Welfare PhD Student

After graduating from SFSU, I obtained a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of San Francisco and subsequently worked as the Program Manager of the Stanford Pediatric Advocacy Program. In this role, I helped develop and implement local interventions for families of color to address the material hardships resulting from poverty, including food insecurity and diaper insecurity. However, disproportionate poverty in communities of color is a result of a long history of structural racism and systemic disenfranchisement that cannot be reversed through local interventions alone. Local interventions can be thought of as band-aid solutions that do not address the root cause of the problem. Truly equitable communities can only be achieved through national policy change aimed at reversing this history of disinvestment in communities of color. I decided to pursue a doctorate in social welfare at UC Berkeley with the goal of developing a research agenda that would drive anti-poverty policy change, beginning with my dissertation research.

I chose Berkeley because of its commitment to issues of social justice and for its world-class faculty and student-body. Though Berkeley is not perfect (no university is), I have learned and grown so much from my interactions with faculty and especially with fellow students.

Why do you want to pursue a career in the professoriate?

Monica De La Cruz: Academia can feel marginalizing, especially for students of color and for students whose path is considered “non-traditional.” I believe change in academia needs to occur from within, beginning with centering students who have different lived experiences before and during graduate school, and promoting pathways into faculty positions for these students so that they can act as changemakers within the academy. With a career in the professoriate, I can be one of those changemakers.

Part of the eligibility criteria for this fellowship is demonstrating a record of “advancing issues of inclusion, equity, and diversity”, what are some ways have you advocated for these types of efforts? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

Monica De La Cruz: Though I have always had a sense of equity and social justice prior to graduate school, my experiences at UC Berkeley have deepened my understanding of how to operationalize these concepts when conducting research. Since January 2020, I have been a graduate student researcher for the Abundant Birth Project (ABP), the first guaranteed income in the United States for pregnant Black and Pacific Islander people. ABP was purposefully designed to address racism as a root cause and center the experiences of the Black and Pacific Islander communities in San Francisco with the aim of positively impacting birth outcomes through increasing economic security. My involvement in ABP has taught me how to conduct truly equitable and racially just research, and I am committed to continue centering marginalized communities moving forward in my career.

Additionally, I applied to be a Diversity and Community Fellow at UC Berkeley to center and support students with different lived experiences, especially students of color and student parents. As a fellow, I have been working to impact university culture and advocate for ways to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment so all students feel a sense of belonging, and I have been providing mentorship to people from underrepresented backgrounds interested in pursuing a graduate degree. I have felt rewarded and fulfilled as a Diversity and Community Fellow, and I hope that I am positively impacting not only the culture at UC Berkeley but the future of the academy as a whole, one student at a time.

My graduate education and extracurricular activities at UC Berkeley have provided me the scaffolding needed for a successful career in academia, where I plan on building a rigorous research agenda as well as provide mentorship and education to underrepresented students as a tenure-track faculty member at a US university. More importantly, however, my commitment to social and economic justice and anti-racism have only been strengthened by my experiences at Berkeley, and these values will continue to be my North Star at every stage of my career.