When Gabby Medina Falzone stepped up to teach “Latinx and Immigration” for the fall 2022 semester, she was ready to challenge her students and herself.

It was difficult, she admits, taking on a class that had been taught by a fellow faculty member, Paul Lopez, for nearly 20 years. With the foundation he had set, the course was highly relevant and impactful—but she envisioned doing even more with it.

Her first priority was to center the course on Latinx people and immigration—which is one of the dozens that meet the state’s new ethnic studies course requirement—and on critical thinking instead of rote memorization. This alteration has produced some poignant conversations.

“We’ve talked about some difficult concepts, both in terms of academic difficulty and in terms of emotional difficulty,” said Medina Falzone. “The conversations and the activities have been intense.”

Medina Falzone, now in her second year as an assistant professor of intersectional Latin studies in the Multicultural and Gender Studies (MCGS) Department, describes herself as “a social scientist with a youth focus.” As a mixed-race educator, community-engaged qualitative researcher, and community activist, she was excited to put her own twist on a topic that can be so politically charged—this ultimately led her to revamp the entire curriculum.

As more discussion than lecture, students in the class are expected to interact and participate in conversations ranging from theories of migration and settler colonialism in the United States to racialization and economic exploitation.

One of Medina Falzone’s goals for her Latinx and Immigration class is to help prepare her students for their academic endeavors after they graduate from Chico State, including graduate and law school.

“I designed this class as a bridge class to graduate or law school,” she said. “We run it like a seminar.”

Beginning with a global and historical perspective, Medina Falzone gradually narrows in on the modern immigration experience. She knows this resonates with many Chico State students, particularly those who identify as Latinx or Hispanic—more than 36 percent of our students do—and those who seek to know more about the journeys of their ancestors.

“I feel like this class is really helping students contextualize what their experiences are, because we just don’t get that sort of thing from our families,” she said. “My students certainly didn’t get in K–12 and they certainly didn’t get in any other class here at Chico State so far.”

It’s no surprise that her approach is making a positive impact. In 2022, she earned the Promising Newcomer Award from the Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion. Nominators recognized that in addition to her teaching, she has brought fresh perspective and energy to numerous other endeavors that are galvanizing campus EDI work.

Evelyn Xolalpa-Pablo, a third-year multicultural and gender studies major, said the class has helped cultivate an environment where she is learning about the history of her family, as well as the plight of others—and one in which she feels safe to speak freely.

“I can express my thoughts and feelings when speaking about difficult topics such as our immigration policies that affect a majority of the United States population,” she said. “Also, as someone who is Mexican, I don’t generally keep track of other countries’ situations, and this class has opened my eyes to the current conditions of some countries within Central America.”

That’s exactly the kind of experience Medina Falzone aspired to see.

“[My students] understand a little bit about their own migration history. But if there is something contentious or harmful in our culture, adults don’t want to discuss it with their children,” said Medina Falzone. “There’s a lot of intergenerational trauma where no one knows about why something’s happening—we explore those types of themes in this class.”

Looking through a critical Latinx studies lens, which focuses on issues of power and dynamics and how they affect people, Medina Falzone also explores the experiences of queer and trans people, youth and women, and cis women compared to cis men—an intersectional layer that opens the eyes of some of her students.

Fourth-year multicultural and gender studies major Emily Cruz said that the class has made her aware of the dangers that people from countries like Venezuela, Honduras, and many more are in—and that she explores these through a more critical lens. 

“I had some initial knowledge about it, but this class really makes me think about how there are things bigger than myself,” she said.