Anita Tijerina Revilla wasn't there in 1968 when students walked out of Los Angeles classrooms in protest. Yet her life -- and her career -- were profoundly affected.
The walkouts, which included black students who marched in a show of solidarity, called attention to the substandard education being provided to minority students.
The effects have been long-lasting, said Revilla, who is co-editor of the book Marching Students: Chicana and Chicano Activism in Education, 1968 to the Present (University of Nevada Press, 2011). She also co-wrote the chapter, "The Las Vegas Activist Crew" and provided the book's introduction.
"In so many school districts there are administrators, teachers, and students who are struggling with not having culturally relevant" principles of teaching, Revilla said. "We want to let them know there is a legacy to some of the inequality in schools and there is some legacy of resistance.
"The walkouts in Los Angeles were a real turning point for Chicano activism in this county," said Revilla, director of UNLV's women's studies program. "In the short term, the students involved created consciousness among themselves and in their community about the inequities they were experiencing. After their experience with the walkouts, students realized 'We don't have to live our lives out in this state of discrimination. We can create change in our own lives.'"
The long-term impact has been profound, according to Revilla. Many of those students, who were significantly disadvantaged and considered at-risk, have thrived in both their education and their careers -- things Revilla sees as being directly related to their experience with the walkouts. Most walkout leaders have acquired college degrees. Many now work as professors, teachers, or school administrators. One made a film about the walkouts for HBO.
"The experience in 1968 created a shift in their minds," she said.
In her own education, Revilla, too, realized that she would have to be the one to take charge if she wanted to succeed.
Growing up in San Antonio, she quickly was identified as bright and was placed in a program for gifted and talented children. That eventually translated into her being placed on a college-bound track.
Revilla, whose family had no experience with college, had asked around about admissions. Extra-curricular activities were important, she was told. So teenage Anita signed up for almost every club and program she could find -- even those that were not a major interest, such as a summer program in engineering.
When the time came to file college applications, she wanted to apply to some Ivy League schools -- an option she was aware of only because two of her teachers had talked to her about it. But her counselor at one of the city's poorest high school advised against it, telling her she needed to be more realistic and limit her applications to local colleges. Ignoring her advice and insisting on her college fee waivers, Revilla filed her own college applications without her help -- and enrolled at Princeton the following fall.
Like her counterparts in Los Angles, Revilla had direct experience with educational inequities. For one thing, she realized how lucky she was that someone had placed her on the college-bound track even though she found even that education lacking. Unlike many of her fellow students, at least she was being pushed to improve her own educational experience. And, she said, many of those peers were just as bright as she was.
Unfortunately, she said, the education offered to marginalized students in America really hasn't improved in the years since she herself was in the K-12 education system.
Much of the problem, not surprisingly, goes back to money. "School finance has been an issue for civil rights movements for a long time," Revilla said. As long as school funding is tied to property taxes, which means that districts with more expensive real estate receive more money than districts in poorer areas, the inequities will remain, she predicted.
Knowing that correcting school funding problems probably won't happen any time soon, particularly in light of the nation's economic problems, Revilla said the country at least needs to strive for cultural, class, and gender competence in its schools. "If teachers were trained to deal with differences related to mental illness, class, gender, and race, it would lead to different and improved experiences for students and would result in fewer students being marginalized because of those differences," she said.
Revilla, whose book won the 2011 Critics Choice Book Award from the American Educational Studies Association, will spend her sabbatical next academic year working on two more books. Nearing completion is one about Chicana and Latina activism in Los Angles, Raza Womyn Reconstructing Revolution: Building and Sustaining a Muxerista Consciousness. The other book is about local immigrant rights activism, What Happens in Vegas Does NOT Stay in Vegas: Social Justice Activism in Las Vegas.
Marching Students: Chicana and Chicano Activism in Education, 1968 to the Present (University of Nevada Press, 2011)