MISSOULA – As a biracial student in a predominantly white school, University of Montana graduate Valeria Miranda has had her fair share of difficult conversations about race with fellow students and faculty.
She could have left it at mere talk, but Miranda is more about action and in the midst of her rigorous academic studies – she’s made the Dean’s List multiple times and graduates cum laude this spring – she immersed herself in diversity initiatives across campus. Her volunteer resume includes serving as a student co-chair on UM’s Diversity Advisory Council and co-founder of the Latinx Student Union. She also served on the Associated Students of UM Senate.
Miranda’s work synced perfectly with her major in political science and minor in African American Studies, but it’s also deeply personal she said.
“Being biracial I am interested in my cultures and issues related to race,” said Miranda, who grew up in southern California before moving to Billings her senior year of high school. “Spanish is my first language and it was super weird at first in Billings only being able to talk with mother. But once I started hanging out with other students at UM who spoke Spanish, it made me feel more empowered.”
She credits, too, her coursework at UM for expanding her horizons including an honors class called Race, Inequality and Education, taught by Teaching, Research and Mentoring Fellow Eliot Graham, and Black: From Africa to Hip-Hop taught by Tobin Shearer, professor of history and director of UM’s African-American Studies program.
It was in Shearer’s course that Miranda met a fellow student who is Cuban American, and while hanging out together at the UC, they launched the Latinx Student Union in 2019.
“We drew names to see who would be president,” recalls Miranda, who won the title.
“I appreciate her letting me be a part of it,” Miranda added.
The group now has several members, hosts a vibrant Facebook page and has sponsored a number of events including a gathering to play Loteria, a Spanish game of chance, and an educational program on Day of the Dead. It also has partnered with the Pacific Islanders Club and Black Student Union, which Miranda was also involved with last year. She was the co-coordinator of the third annual Black Solidarity Summit in 2020.
“Valeria’s work on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion here at UM has been noteworthy and needed,” said Wilena Old Person, program coordinator for the College of Health and DAC co-chair. “As a co-founder of the Latinx Student Union, she saw the need of representation and stepped up to be that representation. I admire her strength.”
Miranda eventually wants to attend law school and study immigration law, but for now is looking at immediate work, either teaching English in Madrid later this year or working for a nonprofit involved in racial equity.
She credits UM and the support she received from the University’s administration and faculty for making her feel safe, empowered and capable of achieving her goal of helping people of color.
Twila Old Coyote, director of S.E.A. Change in UM’s Office of the President, has worked closely with Miranda and sees huge potential in her future.
“Valeria is such a natural leader and uses her voice to advocate for marginalized populations, especially women of color,” Old Coyote said. “I know she will go on to do great things, as she is such a rock star and has so many gifts to offer.
“Watch out world, here she comes!”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, firstname.lastname@example.org.