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Behind the Pink Slip

the Lily Espinoza Story

Meera Kumbhani

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Over the past two months, 70 classified staff members havereceived layoff notices in the Foothill-De Anza District. Theselayoffs allow the district to recoup $4 million of the total $20.7million cut in funding for the 2003-2004 school year.
But it’s not just a matter of numbers for five-months-pregnant LilyEspinoza.
“This is my dream job,” said the program coordinator for Foothill’sTransfer Center, whose eyes filled with tears as she spoke to theBoard of Trustees last month regarding her own layoff. “Ever sincegraduate school, all I’ve wanted to do is help California communitycollege students transfer.”

“I’m notsaying people of color should be treated differently, but having acommitment to diversity means that you are pro-active in supportingdiversity, which would include fighting for people of color to havea job.”

– Lily Espinoza

H owever, this is hardly the first adversity Espinoza has facedin her life and journey to get to where she is today.
The Lily Espinoza story is one of struggle and selflessness; it isa story of a young girl lost in a low-income family of seven, whotransformed herself into a Columbia University graduate to counselstudents just as confused as she once was.


A childhood of uncertainty
Espinoza, 28, grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Orange County.By the time she was in sixth grade, she had attended six differentschools.
“I had a very unsettled childhood and education,” said Espinoza.”[Within my family], we were all very much on our own. We learnedfrom the start that we had to take care of ourselves.”
Espinoza’s father was a workers’ compensation attorney,representing farm workers hurt on the job, who were often unable topay him. Her family would frequently go for years without makingmoney from his cases.
When she was 12, her mother died of cancer, leaving her father toprovide for her and her three sisters and one brother.
“Oftentimes we didn’t have food or shoes or coats,” said Espinoza.”We moved from place to place, so we never made friends. It wasreally hard for us, but we learned to be independent and strong andconfident in our ability to take care of ourselves, and that’ssomething I wish everybody could have. But I would never putanybody through that.”

The rise from below
After barely maintaining a 2.0 GPA and graduating high school,Espinoza did not see many options in her life. She does not recallany counselors telling her about college applications during highschool.
However, after her sister told her about Diablo Valley College,a

California community college, she packed up, moved to the Bay Areaand enrolled.
“DVC changed everything I wanted to do with my life. I becameinvolved in this greater community of people who believed in what Ibelieved in and felt the way I felt,” she said. “It was a placewhere your studies were taken very seriously, and it was alegitimate way for you to do something better with your life.”
Espinoza became involved with politically active groups and found aniche in psychology and women’s studies classes.
Within a few years, she was accepted to UC Berkeley.
In retrospect, Espinoza wishes she had taken more advantage ofcollege services such as counselors. She makes sure to tell herstudents to utilize the sources they have available to them.
“I always thought I could do everything myself and that the peoplewho used those services were cheating. But I could have helpedmyself a lot more if I had gone to counselors or workshops ontransferring,” she said. “Community college students can definitelytransfer to wherever they want to go, but they can make some wrongturns along the way.”
During her first semester at Berkeley, Espinoza found a scathingarticle in the school newspaper claiming that transfer studentstake the easy way out and cheat their way into the UC system.
However, after researching statistics, she found that the odds oftransferring from community colleges are much lower than manythink.
“As a transfer student you have to work so much harder than someonewho goes straight to a four-year school, and you face obstaclesother students can’t even imagine, so it’s really unfair for themto have this stereotype,” she said.
After earning her baccalaureate degree in women’s studies, Espinozaworked for software companies, at a public access televisionstation and in development at Harvard University. However,recognizing that community college was the starting point of herprofessional interests, she wanted to “give back, somehow.”
So Espinoza went to Columbia University’s graduate school to studythe effects of college on students and how students develop duringcollege.
“I knew, from then on, that I really wanted to work with transferstudents,” said Espinoza, adding that California students need morecounseling because there are so many options available to them.
She hoped her own community college experience would help her helpstudents in a way others could not.

“Workingwith college students is probably one of the most rewarding thingsyou can do and it’s really been wonderful to be able to do it.Maybe one day, in the future, I’ll be able to do it again.”

– Lily Espinoza

Too good too be true
Espinoza was hired as the program coordinator of Foothill College’sTransfer Center on Dec. 2, 2002. Just one week later, the districtwent on a hiring freeze, as they anticipated a substantial budgetcut.
“Because of [the freeze], I knew that if anything happened, I wouldbe the first to go.”
But Espinoza did not worry and look for another job because shethought there were options other than cutting personnel.
Although Espinoza’s position has not been eliminated, theequivalent position at De Anza has, so the De Anza staff member whohas seniority over her will be transferred to Foothill, bumpingEspinoza out of a job.
“I wasn’t aware of this bumping procedure. So a person who has moretime with the district, regardless of their skills and abilities,is more valued than I am, even though I have the formal education,abilities and experience. And that’s something I found out the hardway,” she said.
If she had been aware of the bumping procedure, she says she mostlikely would not have taken the position.
What came to mind first when Espinoza was notified of the layoffwas her need for health insurance.
“My baby is due Sept. 20, and if I don’t have insurance, I’m goingto be in a lot of debt. I will have to go to a county facility andget state assistance.”
As a member of the Multicultural Staff Association, Espinoza alsowonders how the layoffs will affect diversity among the Districtstaff.
“I think it is very convenient in times of economic strife to stickto traditional values rather than try to widen a perspective orincrease diversity on campus. We have a diverse [campus], and if wehave an administration that doesn’t reflect student population, itreally shows our students that we’re not supporting who they are,”Espinoza said.
She also cited research that shows that students relate better torole models who reflect their own cultural identity or politicalviewpoint.
Although she
does not feel as though the layoffs are unfairlytargeting any demographic, she also does not feel an effort isbeing made to protect diversity.
“I’m not saying people of color should be treated differently, buthaving a commitment to diversity means that you are pro-active insupporting diversity, which would include fighting for people ofcolor to have a job.”

On the hunt again
Because she is expecting a baby boy, Espinoza has found herself tobe much more aggressive in her job search than ever before. Shedoes not hide her unemployment from anybody, hoping somebody mighthave a connection to an open position.
Espinoza hopes to continue working with college students but isdoubtful she will find a position in her specialty of transferstudents, especially since there are no community colleges hiringduring the state budget crisis.
“I’ve put myself in a corner because I’ve specialized in communitycolleges,” she said. “I’ll probably have to wait until the economygets better and rely on state funding in the meanwhile.”
Despite her education and qualifications, Espinoza worries that hercompetition now includes the hundreds of other people that havebeen laid off in California community colleges.
“In the end, the governor is really harming the state by choosingto cut resources to colleges, because if you don’t have an educatedpopulation, then the whole society suffers,” she said. “By cuttingcommunity colleges specifically, we’re creating obstacles forstudents of color and unique backgrounds to go into highereducation.”

One end, many beginnings
“I’m single, 28 years old, I’m losing my job and I’m Hispanic,”Espinoza said. “When I first found out I was pregnant, all thesethings sort of came to me, just because there are so manystereotypes about Mexican breeding and single mothers.”
Although she was worried that people would stereotype her as atypical Hispanic mother, “uneducated, on welfare and reckless,” shewas confident enough in her education and ability to take care ofherself that she pushed the prejudices aside.
“I thought about all that very seriously, but at the same time, Ifigured, why not do something about it and bring someone into thisworld who doesn’t think that way?”

The road ahead
Though Espinoza is aware that she may not be able to get the samejob again in the future, she treasures the work she’s been able toaccomplish and does not regret the few months she was able to spendat her dream job.
“Working with college students is probably one of the mostrewarding things you can do, and it’s really been wonderful to beable to do it. Maybe one day, in the future, I’ll be able to do itagain.”

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