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Tanya Barbosa ‘21: An Advocate for the Adolescent

First-generation sociology student Tanya Barbosa ‘21 utilizes her upbringing, education and volunteer work to advocate for underserved minority youths.

By Amber Francis ‘22

Tanya Barbosa stands proudly in her graduation cap, gown, and other regalia.

Tanya Barbosa ’21 is a first-generation college graduate who uses her upbringing, education, and volunteer work to advocate for underserved minority youths.

As the daughter of an immigrant household and a first-generation Latinx student, Tanya Barbosa ‘21 has always dreamed big. Determined to be the first in her family to attend college, she was on a mission to go to the best university she could and applied to 18 universities. In the end, Texas A&M University was the clear choice for Barbosa with her entire schooling paid for by the Dell Scholars program.

The path to being an Aggie wasn’t an easy one. Due to her parents’ undocumented status they were never granted health insurance. After a cancer diagnosis took a toll on her mother’s health, the family often struggled financially. The Dell scholarship helped ease the Barbosa family’s financial burden.

Now, Barbosa is set to graduate on May 14 and begin a career making a difference for future generations. In light of her life experiences, Barbosa decided to dedicate her life to serving families and communities that face hardships created by unfair systems held intact through racial discrimination.

“Growing up, the only professionals I knew were my school teachers,” Barbosa shared. “Whenever my school teachers spoke about their college experience, they always expressed them to be the best four years of their lives. As I grew older, I knew that I needed to work hard in my studies and get involved in my community and passion in order to get those best four years.”

Barbosa immersed herself in the Aggie community with the Council for Minority Student Affairs (CMSA) in her sophomore and junior years. She rose within the organization to become an external affairs officer, where her role was to motivate students in the organization to get involved with the Bryan College Station community. 

“Advocating for the immigrant community of Texas A&M has humbled me and helped me realize the privilege I have in U.S. citizenship,” she said. “I want to use my privilege to help advocate and amplify the voice of undocumeted students. I want to learn more, bring awareness, and encourage others to educate themselves in the policies that affect the immigrant community and how we can help to bring justice to the inequitable system that has affected so many. CMSA has brought so much knowledge and understanding to me and my passion.”

In addition to connecting with Aggies on-campus Barbosa also volunteered with youth organizations like Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). AVID focuses on motivating high school students to become first-generation college students, an aim that deeply resonates with Barbosa. 

“A lot of these students are future first-generation college students from low socioeconomic backgrounds that have faced a variety of various hardships,” Barbosa said. “The joy those kids experience when they get accepted to a university or accept an offer of a scholarship is an amazing moment to witness.”

Barbosa also interned, volunteered, and mentored at the Brazos County Juvenile Detention Center for three years, an experience she described as eye-opening. The opportunity allowed her to witness how outside social factors influence a child’s life. Once she started to learn more about these incarcerated youth, she wanted to find ways to advocate for those behind bars. 

 “Getting to know them, mentoring them, and learning from them has been the greatest honor and highlight of my college career,” Barbosa remarked. “I am thankful for the experience and for the growth I gained by being able to witness and serve youth who lack advocates and a caring justice system. My experience at the juvenile detention center has allowed me to grow my passion in advocating for youth and social justice.”

In addition to helping fuel her passion for selfless service, Barbosa said her sociology degree from Texas A&M also empowered her to embrace her cultural and ethnic identity. Despite hailing from an immigrant Latinx household, she was unfamiliar with many aspects of her cultural identity because of her religious upbringing. Most of the Latinx culture is seen as a sin in the religion Barbosa was taught to practice as a child. As a result, Barbosa felt resentful towards her cultural and ethnic identity.

Upon coming to Texas A&M, Barbosa gained the confidence to leave the religion and had the opportunity to learn and participate in the Latinx culture, even crediting her sociology degree with helping her learn about and be closer to her culture. 

“I felt that I was not ‘Latina enough’ according to what I thought my definition of Latinx was,” Barbosa explained. “Sociology filled that void of confusion and resentment that I had experienced for so long.”

After graduation, Barbosa plans to serve underprivileged, at-risk youths. In fall 2022, she will teach high school English through Teach For America. Eventually she plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in either sociology or education. She’ll continue to advocate for both at-risk youths and social justice, continue to grow her passion for selfless service, and bring awareness to societal issues.

“I want my actions and my voice to be contagious, encouraging others to fight for a better future for the next generations,” Barbosa declared.

Above all, Barbosa expressed great pride in her undergraduate achievements. 

“Gaining a college education from a recognized university brings so much pride and joy to my parents and others,” she stated. “I am my parents’ retirement plan. I am a first-generation Latinx student who wants to dedicate her life and passion to the justice and inequity that I and others have experienced. Being a first-generation college student means figuring it out on your own and creating pathways for those who come after you.”