A Discussion with Christina Solomon, Co-President of African American and Latino Parents Association (AALPA) and Magis Parent, Magis Center for Equity and Inclusion, Saint Ignatius College Preparatory, San Francisco, California
April 29, 2021
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in April 2021 undergraduate student Gabrielle Villadolid (C’21) interviewed Christina Solomon, co-president of the African American and Latino Parents Association (AALPA) and Magis parent at Magis Center for Equity and Inclusion in Saint Ignatius College Preparatory (SI), San Francisco, California, United States. In this interview, Solomon discusses the impacts of Magis Center programming for herself and other Magis parents/families.
Would you mind re-introducing yourself, telling me a little bit about what you’re currently doing and what’s your connection to Magis?
Yes, my name is Christina Solomon. I am a parent of a sophomore son, William, who’s 16 and I am connected to the Magis program probably in a couple of ways, through my son who participates and all the services that the Magis provides. And then I’m also co-president of the African American and Latino parent association, otherwise known as AALPA and so we work directly with the Magis program, so yeah. We work directly with the Magis program, and that particular group is a parent group at SI and it is geared for Black and Latino students and their families, to help them navigate the community, the SI community, and also provide support and resources, as we are all trying to build the community of SI.
So pre-pandemic, how often did you visit the Magis Center’s physical location during your time or visiting at SI?
I don’t think that I physically visited that much, probably maybe once a month, but pre-pandemic, my son William was there everyday. So he really benefited from it, and if he wasn’t there, you know, probably a couple times throughout the day too, so he’s there everyday so he really benefited. I was more in contact on the phone or email, more so than physically there.
Thank you, and you really kind of touched upon this, but if you could just expand a little bit more for when you go into the Magis Center, what were your reasons be they personal, social, professional slash academic, et cetera?
When I did go there, it was for meetings that they may have, or sometimes conferences. There were a couple of incidents that occurred with my son, where we were needed for their support, so we would have in-person meetings there.
And thinking back to when you would physically go into the Magis Center, what was it that you noticed about the space itself and how did this make you feel?
I think it was very comfortable. It’s very informal there, so it wasn’t—it didn’t seem necessarily very structured, or not “structured” but I think in academic studying, it sometimes seemed very formal, and so when you go into there, I think the layout is very inclusive with couches and things like that that I think give them a more comfortable feel there, and there’s a lot of energy in there because usually there’s music playing and it seems student driven, and even the staff members, their desks were positioned in such a way that didn’t seem closed off at all, but very open, and so I think it has had a very open space feel to it, and then there was usually always someone to there to greet you, there was usually a staff member to greet you as well, so it’s a very welcoming environment.
Thank you, and could you describe what your participation in Magis activities was like, and, once again, how did your participation in these make you feel?
So yeah, so anytime, they always had a lot of events or informational sessions, so I would try to probably participate, usually it seemed, weekly. They are a very active group, so, you know, when my schedule allowed, I would try to participate at least one to two times. And then what was the second part, Gabby? How often I still physically went in there, what was the second part of the question?
How did you feel participating in these?
Oh yeah, I mean, I think the Magis does so many things well, but they’re such an inclusive group, and so in there, I always felt welcome, I felt understood and heard and I felt supported, and included, and they always allow for a lot of comments and feedback, and so it was always, you know, really informational and I think I always felt like, oh, I should really rely on them a lot more. ‘Cause as a working parent, it kind of gets a little hard to be able to utilize all of the services just because you’re trying to balance everything, but yeah, I always feel supported and all of that.
Moving on to my next question, what impressions do you have about how other students, faculty, and other members of the community interact with the Magis space and or activities? Can you clarify that a little bit, when you’re saying “others” are you saying others that are not of color, or what is your—
You’re saying what my impressions were of others in general?
—of how other students, faculty, and members of the SI community who don’t participate in Magis activities or interact as much with the Magis space, or I guess I’m asking how they interact! So, those who aren’t a part of Magis, how do they interact—what are your impressions of how they interact with the Magis space and activities, and that can mean... oh gosh, I’m just trying to clarify that.
Well, no, I think, so if I understand the question, if I was to look at how I perceived others in the SI community, how they perceived or integrated with the Magis, I didn’t see a lot of it at all, and I’m sure—and so my thoughts around that was I don’t think it was, probably not for lack of interest, but I’m not sure if they probably were aware really of the space or if it was open to them, you know, ‘cause I mean, it’s pretty, you know, specific that, you know, it’s catered—who the demographic is catered to, so I didn’t necessarily see a lot of integration or a lot of activity in there, but like I said, I don’t think it was, you know—I mean, and while this is my own projection, it didn’t seem, because maybe they weren’t interested or not, but just probably didn’t seem like it was their space per se, so I didn’t see necessarily a lot of interaction between other SI community members and Magis participants.
I would like to add the caveat that that is from a parent perspective and someone that wasn’t there necessarily a lot, so I think that’s important to, well, at least I’d like to make that distinction that, you know, I wasn’t necessarily on campus a whole lot or integrated a whole lot, so I think maybe a student may have a different perspective or you know, but, from my perspective, the limited times I was there I didn’t necessarily see a lot of interaction from a non SI or a non Magis participant. But you know, there’s probably a myriad of reasons for that.
Thank you. So, in light of your experience with Magis, what did the Magis Center’s current descriptors, “equity and inclusion” mean to you?
I think equity is just trying to make sure that families and students alike have access and exposure to, you know, all the same services and supports and opportunities that non-students of color may have, and I think inclusion is always trying to build a community where everyone feels welcomed. And I think there’s an educational component, I also think it also means to educate those that may not be, you know, “I’m not aware of what diversity and inclusion is or how it impacts,” you know them. So I think it’s kind of three pronged—I think there’s an education component, but I think there’s also a component of support for students of color and their families to make sure that they have access, but as well as to make sure that they feel welcomed as well.
Also in light of your Magis experience, what does the term, the actual term “magis” mean to you, if it carries a meaning?
Yeah... well, I think I have to be honest, I’m not sure, I think I kind of know what it is, but I couldn’t tell you off the bat, I want to say... that yeah, I probably wouldn’t be able to answer that, I know it means something significant, and I think it’s something around like, the Ignatian philosophy. But yeah, I couldn’t—yeah. Once I figured out what it was, I was like, oh, that makes sense, so I don’t know if it’s—no, that’s not “the whole person,” that’s something else, but yeah, I try to act like I know what that means.
Thank you. So for my next question, what connection, if any, do you perceive between equity and inclusion and “magis,” meaning the center itself? What connection, if any, do you perceive between equity and inclusion and “magis?”
Are you saying how did those two align together, is that?
Well yeah, I think it goes hand in hand, I don’t think that the Magis could do their work, you know, without having those two foundational components, they’re, you know, because I mean that’s kind of the core of who they are, you know, is trying to make sure that, you know, families of color and you know, undeserved, you know, families and students, you know, are accounted for and have access, and so I think there’s, you know, there’s a definite synergy, I don’t think that they’d be able to do their work without those two components.
Thank you. Also, I just want to apologize if the wording of my questions comes off a bit weirdly. I have to structure them such that I don’t try to prime you into answering a certain way and so it’s very open ended and sometimes it can seem, “Oh, what is she asking?” But it’s really to give you as much for you to answer as freely as you can so I apologize for that.
Alright, and so, for my follow up question, if any, what connection do you see between equity and inclusion and specifically the aspect of racial justice, through the Magis Center’s work?
Oh, I mean, I think I would probably answer really similar to my last question, um, you know, I think Magis—the Magis Center is the cornerstone for the SI community in these areas. You know, I think without them, you know, it’s going to be hard to advance and really see progress in any of these areas, and so I think when you’re looking at the topic of inclusion and equity, it seems like the ratio components, like you couldn’t have those two without veto, that one. I think like you said, what’s the racial injustice, or, was that what you said? Or what was the question? Yeah, racial, yeah, I don’t think you, I think it would be–yeah, I don’t think you could talk about diversity and inclusion without talking about racial justice, so I think, you know, that’s another key principle for the Magis–and I’m asking clarifying questions ‘cause I want to make sure I’m not getting too lofty, but yeah.
So in the context of the social justice issues and movements today such as those related to COVID, Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, what meaning does the Magis Center currently carry for you? Has its meaning changed for you in the context of these times?
No, I don’t think that the meaning has changed, I think if anything, they probably have shown its importance or significance. For the SI community, more so than anything, I don’t think if the Magis Center had the leadership or guidance of you know, Ms. Hernandez and her staff, I don’t think the social justice issues that are impacting our society would have as prominence as it does in the SI community, just specifically in the SI community, so yeah. So yeah, I just think that the Magis Center is key to [inaudible] and changing kind of just the thought process of the SI community, you know. Yeah, they’re just key in that, and the work which is a really difficult work, because it’s so complex, there’s so many complexities to it, but I think the Magis Center is equipped to be able to address those issues.
So we’re coming to the end of our conversation. For my last question, I just want to ask, is there anything else that you believe is relevant to this conversation that you’d like to talk about or that I have not asked about yet?
No, I think everything was covered, I just think as a parent new to Jesuit education and private education which is very different from a public setting, I think as a parent, as a black parent, as a black mother raising a black son, I don’t think we would be nearly as successful if we didn’t have the support of the Magis Center. I think when you go into communities like SI, while there are so many amazing opportunities and experiences there, when you are a person of color and particularly a black person going into a predominantly white or even Asian environment, there are–while this is a broad stroke to say–but you know, there’s just, you know, a lot of complexities that you’re dealing with.
But not having the Magis, I don’t know—one, I don’t know how long we would have been there, and two, I don’t know how successful we would have been, you know, because it’s easy to feel isolated and alone, even though no one is necessarily did anything and the environment is welcoming, so I just say all that to say that, the Magis Center is probably the heartbeat to why many black and brown families are able and undeserved are able to navigate that, and I just wish that it would have more exposure so families really knew, you know, because I think it’s really hard to as a working parent and if you’re a single parent just trying to navigate all of that so you’re not really able to maybe participate or do as much as you want, because you know. And then SI in itself is very complex right, you know, it’s trying to log onto Power School or trying to figure out, you know, all the different—there’s so many different little things but anyway, I think long story short, it’s just that if something were to happen to the Magis Center that would be greatly detrimental to the SI community.
Alright, thank you so much Ms. Solomon.