A Discussion with Jovita Ramirez, Magis ’18 Alumni Student, Magis Center for Equity and Inclusion, Saint Ignatius College Preparatory, San Francisco, California

April 25, 2021

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in April 2021 undergraduate student Gabrielle Villadolid (C’21) interviewed Jovita Ramirez, Magis alumna in Saint Ignatius College Preparatory (SI), San Francisco, California, United States. In this interview, Ramirez speaks about how the Magis Center has impacted her mindset, beliefs, and success as a student.

Would you mind introducing yourself, telling me a little bit about what you’re currently doing and what’s your connection to Magis?

Okay, my name is Jovita Ramirez but I go by Jo. I am currently a junior at Rockhurst University. I work at a restaurant out here; I am also an intern with a food insecurity company right now. And my connection to Magis—I was an SI alum and I interacted with the program slash community almost all four years, or six years, technically, because of the middle school program and the high school.

So, pre-pandemic, how often did you visit the Magis Center’s physical location during your time at SI?

So throughout the middle school program I usually hung out there after school. And then especially when my older brother–also an SI alum–when he was a TA during the summer program, I also would go there to hang out. Throughout high school, I was there pretty much every day after school as long as I was able to. So I either used it for homework; I used it for a hangout spot. And then kinda towards junior and senior year, I started going there more like, during the lunch period, and then just hanging out there for pretty much any free time I have honestly.

Thank you. And so you already touched upon these, but what were your reasons for visiting the Magis Center? Be they personal, social, professional slash academic, etc.?

So a part of it was definitely academic. I would stay there to do homework or if we had a tutoring session in there, I would be there for that. A lot of it though was personal, just a lot of my friends were from the Magis middle school program or they were already involved with the Magis Center, so that’s why I always went there. And then, on another I guess personal note would be–I guess that was social, but personal would be like, when Ms. Carillo was there. I would always kind of go there to talk with her, because that was my kind of—that was my person in the Magis Center, but yeah.

Thank you. And thinking back to when you would physically go into the Magis Center, what did you notice about the space, and how did this make you feel?

It was very open and it would definitely got very full and space constricted when everyone was inside, especially during the lunch period. But it was always just a welcoming area because there were couches and then the bean bags, and then I think my senior year was more full of desk area, and that helped more so with the homework aspect of it. But just in general, it was very open, it was really easy to just walk in and talk with someone, regardless of the faculty member that was there.

And could you describe your participation in Magis activities? And again, how did your participation in these make you feel as well?

So I think the one I most actively was a participant in was the college application process. So that helped, especially the summer before having senior year just because even though I had my older brother helping me, it was also good to bounce back and forth from Ms. Vaccaro and that was also something really helpful with the college process, especially freshman year, just knowing that there was someone available to help you with the college process in terms of classes, extracurriculars and things like that. And then, it was nice to have it just because it helped me feel not as lost when I applied to college and then definitely also just being able to have a personal connection with someone in there, it made the transition there a little easier. Especially after my freshman year, because my brother was a senior when I was a freshman and so after he graduated it was nice still having connections he had with faculty just because like, it was like, an easy sibling thing.

Thank you, and what impressions do you have about how other students, faculty, and other members of the SI Community interact with the Magis space and activities?

So with people I came with from the Magis summer program, it was nice. You know, you just knew them, and so we already had a familiarity and soft spot for the Magis Center. And then the people I met throughout my four years also eventually had a soft spot for it. And I know definitely, I feel like among my senior class the Magis Center was a big thing for us. I remember it was a mixture of sports and extracurriculars and even academic interests that were always involved in the center. Outside of that, however, I feel like throughout the four years, an issue always came up of how the Magis Center was viewed as outside of that community. Especially with students that didn’t feel comfortable interacting with it or even non-POC students also. And so I feel like that also meddled with it a lot. And then with faculty, I feel like it was the same thing. There just was never like, an easy approach, I guess, from the outside looking in, but from the inside looking out, it was like, it’s as simple as having a conversation. So I think that has always been a thing where outsiders—or, I guess not outsiders but just other students and faculty never really knew how to approach the center in the best way, if that makes sense.

Thank you. So, in light of your Magis experience, what do the Magis Center’s current descriptors, equity and inclusion, mean to you?

Ooh. [laughs] It means a lot. It definitely shaped my perspective on the world, and definitely my outlook coming into college. I’ve noticed definitely throughout college I’ve made it more important for me to continuously carry it with me, especially because similar to SI, Rockhurst is majority white and so especially when we have conversations of social justice and things like that, I feel like within myself and within peers and even friends I try and promote that as much as possible, and even in daily acts with that. I feel like equity and inclusion is often just said, you know, than acted upon, if that makes sense. Until having that be a part of the Magis Center, it definitely promoted the message of it, even though it’s completely overlooked, but it promoted the message of it and again. As I said earlier, within my senior class I feel like a lot of the members that were part of Magis definitely take that into account. Because I know specifically of one instance–another student, he was always involved and he always had a soft spot for it. Even though he wasn’t any of the three factors that most students, people go into the Magis Center [for], but he was just there, being involved, yeah.

And so also in light of your experiences with Magis, what does the actual term “magis” mean to you?

So I know it literally means “the more.” But just for me in general it, or I guess not general but personally, it just means going above and beyond. I know at SI that was always the message, like be “the more,” go above and beyond, especially when Mr. Jackson was the director. And so that, for me, it just means if you can be more somewhere else, even if it doesn’t benefit you in any way, shape or form, go for it because, I don’t know, I guess personal benefit isn’t always guaranteed but at least outside benefit is guaranteed. Like, one act of kindness can help someone else. And so that’s what it means for me. It’s just like, regardless of the benefits that come attached with anything, it’s just at the end of the day, if it’s helping someone, that’s going to help you, if that makes sense. 

Thank you. And also don’t worry about the scribbling noises, that’s just me taking notes! So what connection, if any, do you perceive between equity and inclusion and Magis? You can take that to mean the actual term or the actual center.

Definitely within the center those three terms connected a lot. Just because like I said earlier, SI is a predominantly white high school and so me entering it definitely felt a little bit out of place, just because I'm [from] a low-income family and then we’re Mexican Americans, and so my brother and I obviously came from immigrant parents. And so having a center where I had people that looked like me helped me a lot, because it made me feel like I had some form of home. And so that was my biggest reason for being a part of the summer program and then getting involved in it in high school was because I heard how my brother talked about it and we had two older siblings that also attended SI and so they were involved in Magis too. 

And so just hearing about having a place of home in high school where there’s not a lot of people that look like you was helpful, not only in succeeding in high school but also in developing the right relationships in high school. And then on top of that, just knowing regardless of what student standing you had as a freshman or senior, there was always this ability to connect with each other and then even more so with faculty. There were so many faculty involved with the Magis Center and still are honestly, and so that just made it even more so easy to get involved with someone in the admissions department, in the counseling center, even with administration and so that’s how that kind of connected. More so than anything, there was no discrimination against student standing if that makes sense, and no discrimination department-wise at SI.

And so connecting that to the previous question, if any, what connection do you see between equity and inclusion and specifically the aspect of racial justice as you see it in Magis?

So throughout my four years there, anytime something came up social justice-wise and even attached to racial justice, the Magis Center always made a move to discuss it. And it was in terms of within family first–and I would say within family like within Magis Center first–and then the tone of the conversation outside of it. That always was helpful because we had a space to talk about things, and it wasn’t a space where you felt like if you said anything, it was going to be taken and misinterpreted. But...  definitely with...  [laugh]

Sorry. I’m so sorry, my mom came in for a second, sorry!

No no, you’re good, but...  Sorry, I lost my train of thought real quick. Outside of the family though, that conversation wasn’t as fruitful if that makes sense. I thought—it definitely felt like at times as if the Magis Center was just sort of the place people would go to start a conversation, and then it would start and end there, but then it wouldn’t go outside or beyond that and at least in my four years at SI, whenever something came up in classrooms or even with faculty members I wasn’t very close with, it was hard to talk about equity and inclusion and racial justice, just because there were differing views and in the way that I stood [in] my point of view, it wasn’t going to co-align—correlate with theirs. That was the connection I saw. A lot of it was like, it connected within some areas and then in other areas, it was just a term of like, where you stand. I feel like I ran with it in the complete opposite direction.

So, in the context of the contemporary social justice issues and movements that are going on today, such as those related to COVID, Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, what meaning does the Magis Center carry for you? Has its meaning changed for you in the context of these times?

So with current issues and things like that, so I haven’t been back to SI... I feel like if it’s the same as when I was in high school, it’s going to provide that safe space for students to talk and have discussions and things like that. However, not attending or not being there anymore and now being an alumni, I feel like the Magis Center unfortunately has now this token title where it’s just, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s–in a good way it sparks conversation and in a bad way it just gets used to spark conversation. And so it’s important, obviously, these issues are important and having a discussion about it is important and keeping in mind different views is important. But it definitely takes a toll when it’s a moral thing you’re talking about and then someone completely disagrees with it. And so it’s still a place of importance and I feel like it still continues to carry its mission, but unfortunately, I don’t know if it’s just the way SI is or honestly my university is the same way, but when there’s a need for conversation it happens, and even though people can be disgruntled that it’s happening, but beyond that conversation nothing happens if that makes sense.

Thank you. So now we’re coming to the end of our conversation. For my last question to you, 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 yet?

No, I guess just... I guess just a big thing for this would just be the way, I don’t know if they have it, but I know my niece was in the academy and she’s an alumni, she attends SI now, but I guess the academy would also just be a good connection to the Magis Center to have. ‘Cause a lot of those kids are also like, they could be low-income kids or they could just be first generation college students or even people of color and so I think that would be a good connection to have, especially when you come from—I know in my niece’s class, a lot of those kids came out of public schools. It was a completely different structure for them, and coming to SI, definitely for me as well, it felt very different because it was this whole structure–discipline, academic discipline, student discipline. So that would just be a good connection for the Magis Center to have, I feel like. ‘Cause you have six graders coming in, and then you see these high schoolers right next to you, and so for my niece, I know that was difficult seeing, being like a, what, twelve-year-old? Like eleven-, twelve-year-old, and then just seeing all these sixteen-, seventeen-year-olds right next to you. So that was—I think that would be a good thing for the Magis Center to keep in mind, even just having—I know we no longer have the Middle School program, but having some basis of the Middle School program for them. Yeah, that’s about it!

All right, thanks so much Jo for your time and thoughts today!

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