Speaking at Pitzer College on Friday, Oct. 21, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, U.S. Representative from California’s 46th district in Orange County who is currently a running for the U.S. Senate, was the latest of several guest speakers from the Pitzer College Student Senate’s Mindful of the Future speaker series.
“So, does your speaker usually stand, or do they sit?” Sanchez asked Pitzer Student Body President Josue Pasillas, who responded that guest speakers traditionally sit. “Okay you gotta hold me down! Because, you know as Congresswomen, we learn to stand.”
As a child of Mexican immigrants, Sanchez stressed the importance of her upbringing in molding her into the hardworking individual she is today. Though her parents had only modest educations, Sanchez proudly noted that each of her six siblings are also college graduates, with some earning advanced degrees. Sanchez and her sister Linda are the first pair of sisters to simultaneously serve in the United States Congress.
“I come from really good stock,” the Congresswoman said. “And family that believes in education.”
Throughout her life, education has been critical to Sanchez’s evolution as a leader in her community. She credits government-assistance programs for making this possible. As a Head Start child, she was engaged from birth to age five with development programs that support children from low-income families. She attended Chapman University on a Pell Grant. The Rotary Club of Anaheim paid for her MBA at American University.
“You are looking at what happens when we as America, we as community, we as Californians, decide we are going to invest in each other, and I think that I live the American dream every single day,” Sanchez said.
As she outlined her education plan, Sanchez expressed support for President Barack Obama’s attempt to make college tuition-free. In particular, she conveyed her commitment to make community college tuition-free. Referencing the community effort it took to make Santa Ana College, a community college in her district, completely tuition free, Sanchez demonstrated her ability to bring together a multitude of stakeholders to enact tangible policy.
“So when I talk to you about my dreams of how we get your education done, it’s not in theory, it’s because I lived it and because we’re doing it today,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also discussed the various alternative means that exist to obtain a subsidized education. She outlined her efforts to expand upon the Pell Grant, and referenced the GI Bill as a source of significant government expenditure.
“And people always say, ‘Well how are you going to finance it?’ Oh, I’ve got plenty of ways to finance it.” Sanchez continued. “We don’t have a problem about money in Washington D.C. We have a problem with priorities. When we went to the war in Iraq, nobody said ‘how are we going to finance it?’ With that kind of money, everybody could’ve gotten four-year education.”
During the question and answer component of the event, students asked the Congresswoman about a range of issues from her career path, to keeping government expenditures at bay, to her role in the Defense Committee, to addressing issues of racial and social injustice.
Delphine Sophie PZ ’17 asked Sanchez what her policy would be as Senator to make campuses safer in terms of sexual assault. Sanchez answered by explaining what she has done as a member of the Defense Committee to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military and enact legislation to assure sexual assailants are criminalized, which was the first major revision to military law in 60 years.
“We have really started to clean up [sexual assault in the military]. It’s the prosecution and what goes on, it’s what you do if you do have a [survivor] and how you treat them, but it’s also changing the culture of what is acceptable and that’s been the hardest thing in the military to do. But we’re getting there,” Sanchez said.
Another student asked about Sanchez’s role on the Defense Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.
“I’m one of those people that, my litmus test for using our military – is when I don’t have another solution. I am a military mom, I need to look into a mom’s eyes and say, ‘I’m sorry your son, or daughter died, and I didn’t have any other choice’. And if I cannot do that, then I’m not sending my troops,” Sanchez said.
Elijah Pantoja PZ ’18 wrapped up the session by asking the Congresswoman for her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement, and how she plans on addressing racial injustice both in the criminal justice system and the United States in general.
“What has happened is the breakdown of trust between communities. That’s what it comes down to,” Sanchez said. “I have a husband who’s a military officer. I know what it’s like to see somebody out and not know if they’re going to come back. There’s real fear in those people that protect us, and for their families. Everyday. Think about it, everyday. And there’s real fear on the other side.”
The room grew quiet as the Congresswoman began to pound on the table.
“The answer is yes—there is a lot of injustice going on, and we know that,” Sanchez said. “How do you begin to fix that? It is about trust, and it is about bringing leadership and bringing communities together.”
Sanchez added that a leader’s responsibility is to unite communities.
“We all have to look deep inside and self-examine in order to be willing to come to the table to discuss about how we build that trust back again,” she said. “It will never happen if we do not build up the trust.”
As she closed her speech, Sanchez delivered some words of wisdom to the students in attendance: “Do something. Do something with your life. Be a teacher, be a policeman, be a genetic engineer. Study, and be something. And be the best you can be at it.”