Published May 17, 2022
University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education student Anthony Vargas received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA)’s Coalition for Multicultural Affairs (CMA). Vargas, a higher education and student affairs master’s student, received the award in March at the ACPA 2022 Convention in St. Louis, MO, for his equity and inclusion efforts on college campuses.
Stephen Santa-Ramirez, PhD, GSE assistant professor of educational leadership and policy, nominated Vargas for the award. As his mentor, Santa-Ramirez felt that nominating Vargas was a “no-brainer” because of his graduate research, participation with the CMA’s Latin@/x network, and work as a residence hall director at UB.
In all of his endeavors, Vargas is focused on changing cultural dynamics within higher education and ensuring that students of color from all backgrounds are comfortable and celebrated.
I’m advocating for Black and brown students. I’m advocating for my community. I will not stay silent at the table that I have worked hard to get to…I will speak my mind freely because I know that if I was that Black or brown student that didn’t have a seat at the table, I would want someone fighting for me when I’m not in the room.”
Vargas was surprised to receive national recognition for his efforts. “I’m just doing the work that needs to get done,” he said.
His upbringing and experiences ignited his dedication to this work. Vargas was born and raised in New York City. His mother immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. “I grew up in a low-income family—Section 8 housing, food stamps, the whole nine yards,” he said.
As a first-generation student, he was the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree—an accomplishment that made his mother proud. “She always said, ‘that’s all I ask you to do. Just give me that college degree.’ In my family, education is so critical,” he said. “For Latinos from low-income and high-crime neighborhoods, education is a way to build a better future.”
Newly accepted to GSE’s higher education PhD program, Vargas has exceeded his family’s expectations for his education and hopes to continue his advocacy work through his doctoral research. He plans to study low-income and first-generation students, focusing on recruiting, retaining and supporting students of color in predominantly white institutions.
Santa-Ramirez played a significant role in Vargas’s decision to pursue a doctoral degree at UB. After taking three of Santa-Ramirez’s courses, Vargas recognized the identities and interests they shared. In less than two years, Santa-Ramirez became his mentor; and, now, his advisor in the doctoral program.
Santa-Ramirez believes that Vargas has flourished into a remarkable scholar-practitioner. “You can just feel Ant’s passion for equity and racial justice issues. It’s always something he brings up in conversations in class and our one-on-one conversations,” he said.
According to Vargas, it’s an honor to have this relationship with Santa-Ramirez: “Everyone just loves this man. And the reason why everyone loves him is not that he is trying to be loved, but because of who he is as a person—so genuine and authentic and with a beautiful soul that he comes into spaces with,” said Vargas. “I don’t think I would have made it this far in my career if I didn’t have him as my mentor.”
A strong proponent of peer mentorship, Vargas strives to extend the same support to others that he’s received from Santa-Ramirez.
“[Ant’s] been, I think, a positive influence to so many others—his peers at the graduate student level, but also I see so many undergrads at UB seeking him out for advice and guidance. And he actively takes time out of his busy schedule to guide, advise and mentor these folks as well,” said Santa-Ramirez.
The guidance Vargas has provided in his role as a residence hall director has already affected the lives of others: Three of his mentees were accepted to the higher education and student affairs master’s program that Vargas will complete in the spring of 2022. He is thrilled to have the opportunity to share new academic and professional experiences with them in the future.
“Even while I was at the ACPA Convention, I was thinking about my mentees and saying, ‘I can’t wait to invite them to this next year and see them engage in this work and grow as professionals,’’ he said. “It’s all about passing it forward and passing it down.”