The College of Arts and Letters at Cal State San Bernardino has named Luis Esparza, communication studies major, as its 2019-20 Outstanding Graduate Student and Brenda Flores, philosophy major, as its Outstanding Undergraduate Student.

Typically, Esparza and Flores would be honored at the college’s 2020 commencement ceremony, but the event, along with the other colleges’ commencements, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Esparza, who also received his bachelor’s degree in public relations and media studies from CSUSB, identifies as “a queer Chicano/x junior scholar who specializes in Decolonial studies, Indigenous methodologies, Indigenous pedagogical methods, Queer rural studies, Queer history, Mexican masculinities, and mass communication studies.”

His thesis “Desde La Preferia De La Milpa: Testimonios of MSM de Los Ranchos y Pueblos” is centralized in the experiences of men who have sex with men (MSM) in rural parts of Mexico. Specifically, it focuses on the resistance methods MSM implement to navigate oppressive ideologies that stem from different moments in Mexican history such as the colonial era, exclusionist nation building, and homophobic revolutionary period rhetoric.

Esparza, who has served as a graduate teaching associate at CSUSB, has presented his work at various conferences including the National Communication Association (NCA); National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS); Jóvenes con Futuro (JCF); Association for Jotería Arts, Activism, and Scholarship (AJAAS); Latin American Studies Association (LASA); Bringing Theory into Practice (BTtoP); and Gender Sexuality and Power (GSP). 

“I aspire to become a tenured professor at a four-year institution where I hope to continue mentoring first-generation students of color such as myself,” said Esparza, who will attend the University of New Mexico’s Chicana and Chicano Studies Ph.D. program, which is fully funded.

“I come from a long line of warriors, campesinos, and activists who continuously battle to put an end to the dehumanization and symbolic annihilation of people of color, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized groups,” he said. “I hope to continue this legacy through my education and activism.”

Flores began her higher education journey at UC Berkley, but left due to financial hardships. After finishing her general education requirements and earning her associate degree in philosophy at Chaffey College, she transferred to CSUSB.

“My journey to get my degree had not been a short one, but it has been worth the wait,” she said.

While on campus, Flores, who is dedicated to a vegan lifestyle, and her friends started the Students Against Speciesism (SAS) club.

“Our focus is on promoting and informing others on a vegan lifestyle as well as on shedding light on speciesism,” she said. “While it might seem that my passion comes down to sole passion for the animals, I would like to point out that this cause aligns with other social justice issues that face the world today.”

She has also been involved in marches for animal rights in Los Angeles County and has fostered stray dogs, noting that these have been amazing experiences that “help others hear the voice of the voiceless.”

Flores hopes to go to law school and study environmental law and “fight for a better future for generations to come.”