When Elizabeth Rocha Zuñiga first toured the Fresno State campus, she felt at home. A graduate of Lindhurst High School a few hours north of Fresno, she said she was hooked by the beautiful campus, the school spirit and the welcoming people.
“It was like a small community where everyone knew each other and were able to relate to one another,” she said.
Now, as a senior double major in political science and Chicano and Latin American studies, Rocha Zuñiga explains how it wasn’t an easy process to decide what to major in. Entering as a linguistics major, she changed her focus twice before deciding on her double major. The courses in each major complement and build off each other, and led Rocha Zuñiga to wonder about her identity and community.
“Being a Chicana, I had several questions about my own community, and when I got some answers I would have more questions as to why my community faced unique challenges,” she said.
As a student in the College of Social Sciences, Rocha Zuñiga said there is always help available from someone who wants to see students succeed. Before COVID-19 restricted travel, Rocha Zuñiga was set to study abroad in Mexico with the financial help of a scholarship and advocacy from several faculty. Her cost of attendance had been almost fully covered.
“[The faculty] are all so involved on campus one way or the other. They bring so many opportunities to the classroom, which make it all enjoyable,” she said.
Rocha Zuñiga has also experienced the feeling of community in her political science and Chicano and Latin American studies classes, noting specifically that “Political Theory” with Dr. Michael Becker and “Latinx in Education” with Dr. Luis Fernando Macias challenged her, and provided her the space to think and research independently.
“Most importantly, within all of my courses I have taken with Dr. Macias, I always felt welcomed. As small as that may sound, it is a big deal to create that space, that community, for your students,” she said.
Student body president
Rocha Zuñiga was recently elected as the president of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI). Since her freshman year, Zuñiga has served as senator, the senate secretary and vice president of external affairs among other positions before she was elected as president in September.
“Elizabeth is an extraordinary talent,” Macias said. “She embodies the best of Fresno State and shows us what we can expect if we invest properly in our students’ academic and professional growth.”
Rocha Zuñiga ran for student body president because she said the University, from prospective students to alumni, needed a leader with experience and attention to student needs.
“I wanted to make sure that we, as a University, were living up to the highest expectations and being adaptable for all students, which is why inclusivity, awareness, affordability and involvement are important pillars for me,” she said.
As ASI president, Rocha Zuñiga has outlined several of her plans for this year. She intends to focus on mental health, addressing basic needs, connecting students to alumni, student engagement, and making ASI more accessible to the student body. Rocha Zuñiga highlights how COVID-19 has impacted ASI’s missions, but believes that students can still succeed despite the challenges the pandemic has created.
“There have been several concerns coming from students, and I just hope that these concerns keep on coming. That way, we, as your student body elected officials, can find solutions,” she said.
Like most students, Rocha Zuñiga has experienced the challenges of adapting to the online environment. She expresses how she has never felt so overwhelmed before, but has been confidently adapting to the changes. While she misses seeing her friends and family, quarantine has allowed her time to get into her hobbies and for moments of self-reflection.
“As much as I would wish to be on campus, talking to the student body, enjoying our sports teams and interacting with our faculty, administrators and staff, it is so important for us to continue to put our safety and the safety of others first,” she said.
With only one semester left, Rocha Zuñiga is looking forward to all the opportunities she can pursue after graduation. She is currently applying to law school, and is considering the AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Capital Fellows for next year. Further in the future, she sees herself focusing on immigration law and one day running for office.
“We will see where life takes me,” she said, “but I am excited to graduate and get a head start on my career through public service.”
(Story by Mialise Carney)