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Thursday, October 6, 2022

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Alberto Esquinca Alberto Esquinca

A Debt of Gratitude

Inspired by his “tribe,” Alberto Esquinca becomes the inaugural faculty scholar at the SDSU Pride Center
By Michael Klitzing

As a young undergraduate student at the University of Texas-El Paso, Alberto Esquinca made a daily trek across a bridge spanning the concrete banks of the Rio Grande. The journey provided him safe passage beyond the imposing border fence — the physical representation of the century and a half of geopolitics that separated his family’s home in Ciudad Juarez from the opportunity he sought in the United States.

But upon arriving on campus, Esquinca confronted yet another daunting divide. As a gay man in West Texas in the 1990s, he felt like an outsider — so much that he doubted his ability to even continue with his education. Until, that is, he found a support network.

“I didn't find a sense of belonging until I found my tribe — my group of friends who were also queer and also had common interests,” said Esquinca, a founding member of UTEP’s first LGBTQIA+ student organization. “That community that we built really was what got me through everything — from finishing my undergrad to doing a graduate degree. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now.”

Now an associate professor in San Diego State University's Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education, Esquinca is still driven by what he calls the “debt of gratitude” to the community that sustained him. It’s on his mind as he prepares to undertake a new challenge: SDSU’s inaugural Cayleff and Sakai Faculty Scholar in the Pride Center.

Housed in the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, the Cayleff and Sakai Faculty Scholar will empower first-year LGBTQIA+ identifying students to become engaged and academically successful members of the SDSU community. In the role Esquinca will oversee the Pride House peer mentoring program and develop curriculum for two Pride House University Seminar courses.

“Dr. Esquinca is incredibly thoughtful in sharing his knowledge, lived experience and expertise to support the LGBTQ+ community on campus,” said Anne Guanciale, director of the Pride Center. “He also serves on the leadership team of the Pride Employee Resource Group. He has shared that throughout his career he has worked to support students leverage their cultural and linguistic capital, in particular encouraging the persistence and resistance of Latinx students as well.”

Esquinca, who was an associate professor of bilingual education at UTEP before coming to SDSU in 2018, brings his perspective as a dual-language scholar to the role. His research into the identity formation of Latinx students has shown that students who feel a sense of belonging on campus tend to remain at universities and graduate at higher rates. He said it’s much the same dynamic for LGBTQIA+ students.

“When there's a space for you, I think you see yourself as part of that broader community,” Esquinca said. “It shows that people are looking out for you and care about your story — it shows that you matter.”
The faculty position is named for Susan Cayleff, professor of women’s studies, and Carrie Sakai, psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services, for their contributions to the education and visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community.

As the first person to be appointed to the position, Esquinca is particularly interested in exploring intersectionality and finding opportunities for the Pride House to partner with SDSU’s other identity centers wherever possible. And as his own student experience taught him, there is often more than one divide to bridge.

“We can't just understand identity simply in categories of gender, ethnicity, race or social class, sexuality and gender expression — these identities all intersect with one another,” Esquinca said. “There is an even greater responsibility to support those who are at the intersection of these categories who may be more vulnerable, for example trans people of color.”