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Liz Sanchez has been fighting all their life. Activism is a part of who they are.
Sanchez has become an increasingly prominent figure on Cal State Fullerton’s campus in recent years. The outspoken member of Students for Quality Education, an organization with representation on several CSU campuses, has made waves by leading protests and speaking out against the recent CSU tuition increase and the Oct. 31 visit from Milo Yiannopoulos, but they’re not bothered by controversy.
“I think it’s my upbringing. I have experienced a lot in life,” Sanchez said. “I know it has allowed me to be compassionate and to be empathetic toward others, because I have an understanding of hardship, systems of oppression and experiencing violence, whether it’s a symbolic violence or a physical violence.”
Sanchez said they come from a low-income, biracial family, but grew up primarily with their mother’s Chicana/o side.
“It was very much a gendered household, with my grandfather having complete control,” Sanchez said. “My mother would rebel. She ran away, and when she was pregnant with me she kept it a secret … It was really bad.”
Sanchez’s mother eventually came back, but things weren’t any better. A few years later, both Sanchez and their mother left their grandfather to live with Sanchez’s father, but that only led to more hardship.
Sanchez said they endured sexual abuse but doesn’t harbor ill will toward those who have wronged them, despite what they have endured.
“I imagine if there wasn’t a gender hierarchy for my grandfather, if we talked about toxic masculinity and rape culture, maybe my mother would have made different choices. So because of the experiences I have and my education, I understand the dynamics and rationality of people,” Sanchez said. “It always comes back to the structure that we’re in, and I don’t blame people. I blame systems.”
As an organizer for SQE, Sanchez said they fight for student rights and campaign for minority communities.
During their time with SQE, Sanchez met senior Jesse Rodriguez, the Associated Students, Inc. Board of Directors vice chair and secretary. He said working with Sanchez is interesting and exciting but that it can “take its toll.”
“I think many people don’t immediately understand why someone like Liz is that passionate and aggressive with their political advocacy,” Rodriguez said. “There are people like that, because we need people like that … There have to be people that are restless in terms of advocating and aren’t just silent.”
Fellow SQE organizer and fifth-year English major Brittany Goss echoed Rodriguez’s sentiments on working alongside Sanchez.
“Liz is a very caring person. They take their time to really understand where everyone is coming from and try to see how everything plays out to the greater good,” Goss said. “Liz really cares about a lot of people and really wants everybody to have the same opportunities and have the same good life experience that we’re trying to work for. That plays a large part in why Liz does what they do with the activism and really fighting for everybody.”
As someone who identifies as genderqueer Sanchez said they hope to teach higher education with a queer focus.
Sanchez said that means they will look at queer theory more than sexuality, which is about doing things through a lens that acknowledges and accepts the queer community.
“I want to come into higher education and dismantle. I don’t want you to dress professionally. I don’t care if you cuss during your presentation. I don’t care if you say ‘Um.’ Saying ‘Um’ means you’re thinking and that’s great,” Sanchez said. “The norm in the educational spaces is that you have to present yourself in a certain way, and that’s based on white heteronormativity, and I want to deconstruct that.”
Currently, Sanchez is working on a graduate project with which they hope to give back to the community through the creation of a seminar rather than writing a traditional thesis.
“My goal is to teach and still be an activist. I’m hoping I get to present the seminar at different events and panels and just keep going,” Sanchez said.
They’ve come a long way from being a high school dropout to a graduate student, and Sanchez strives to use the information they’ve learned to give back to others and make significant change through activism.
“It’s part of my life. I live and breathe it … It’s never ending,” Sanchez said. “You love it and hate it.”