Democratizing Racial Justice Team


Principal Investigators


Dr. Alejandra Elenes

Principal Investigator

Alejandra Elenes is Professor and Chair of the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies and PI of the Democratizing Racial Justice Mellon Foundation Grant at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her interdisciplinary scholarship centers on the application of Anzalduan philosophy to examine Chicana feminist epistemologies, methodologies, spirituality, and social justice. Currently, she is conducting two research projects. One studies the experiences of Chicanas in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the formation of Chicana intellectual thought. In this research project, she is conducting genealogical, archival, and ethnographic research. The other project is a book project on Mario Compeán, Chicano Movement organizing, and social justice. The book is based on oral histories with Compeán, his family, and movement activists and archival research. She is the former co-lead editor of Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social. Her recent publications have appeared in a variety of journals such as, Aztlán, Frontiers, Journal of Latinos in Education and Journal of Latino/Latin American Studies. She has published chapters in anthologies on the history of women's studies, Chicana/o studies, and Latin American studies.



Dr. Kirsten Gardner

Co-Principal Investigator

Kirsten E. Gardner, Associate Professor of History, teaches in the Department of History, Program of Women’s Studies, and American Studies Program.  In 2015, she was honored with the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.  She is also a member of the UTSA Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars and a winner of the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Core Curriculum.

Racial Justice Staff


Justine Cantu

Multimedia Designer

I'm Justine Cantu and my pronouns are she/her. I'm a multimedia designer for the Democratizing Racial Justice Project through the Women's Studies Institute at UTSA. I also work with the College of Education and Human Development as a multimedia designer.

I hope to work with the community, using research to understand human-centered interaction and design, create thoughtful experiences, and produce a clear understanding of our project and what our team is accomplishing by bringing change to higher education.

I received my B.S. in Radio-Television-Film at UT Austin and Master's degree in UX Design at Maryland Institute College of Art.



Yasmín Codina

Program Manager

My name is Yasmín Parra Codina. I was born and raised in San Antonio and I am excited and honored to be the Community Liaison for the Democratizing Racial Justice Project at UTSA.

I received my double major undergraduate degrees in Mexican American Studies and Anthropology and a Master’s in Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at The University of Texas at San Antonio. I have over 15 years of experience working with multicultural families, collaborating with local government, and community organizations to advocate for social change through education.

I am a proud daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers and generations of educators, with roots from Michigan and the Texas Rio Grande Valley. It is my family’s humble beginnings and dedication to investing their lives’ work through education that moves me to continue to serve my community.

I advocate for amplifying young leaders of color, and centering community input in spaces that foster mentorship, equality, and dismantling unfair social conditions. I look forward to being part of a collaborative project dedicated to a just future that all generations deserve.



Daniele Dixon

Community and Library Liaison

My name is Daniele Rose Dixon, and I am honored to be a part of this project and team. I am a recent college graduate, earning my Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. My research focused on United States history, particularly African American history from the Civil War and Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. 

I have always had a passion for truth-seeking from a young age. I attended NAACP meetings and social justice marches and participated in youth councils beginning in childhood. This upbringing cultivated a passion for activism within me, a sentiment that remained throughout my training as a historian.  

Today, I choose to use my career as a historian to become a voice for the voiceless, uncovering the life stories of silenced and marginalized people. In addition, I hope to bring awareness to the importance of preserving history and the critical legacy of African Americans as prominent innovators, change-makers, and civil rights leaders.  


Viviana Guillen

Graduate Research Assistant

Viviana is a first gen graduate from UTSA. Viviana is a poet, painter, and seamstress. Currently, her work investigates African and Indigenous spiritual appropriations within non-black latinx communities.



Gabriella V. Sanchez

Project Manager

Gabriella V. Sanchez is a tenth-generation Tejana, raised in Yanawana -- the occupied territory that is San Antonio, TX. In 2018 she received her Master’s Degree in Education from the Bicultural-Bilingual Studies program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and is now a Ph.D. Candidate in the Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies program at Texas Woman’s University where her research utilizes intersectional feminist historical analysis and archival methods to document the work of Black and Chicana educator activist leaders in San Antonio, specifically how their experience within the intersections of race, class, ethnicity, and gender raised their consciousnesses to create alternative educational methods and practices necessary for individual and collective change. Gabriella is also a Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies instructor at UTSA, Event Coordinator for the Democratizing Racial Justice Project at UTSA, serves as At-Large Representative for Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS), and is the Co-Chair of the NACCS Chicana Caucus.


Racial Justice Faculty Fellows


Dr. Sonya M. Alemán

Sonya M. Alemán, Ph.D. (she/her/ella) is an Associate Professor in the Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department and Mexican American Studies Program at the University of Texas, San Antonio. She received her BA from St. Mary’s University, an MA from the University of Texas, Austin, and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah. A Chicana from south Texas, she studies mainstream media representations of communities of color, alternative media content produced by communities of color, and manifestations of race, racism, and whiteness in the media. In addition, she is invested in improving the educational experiences of students of color. She draws on critical race theory and Chicana feminism to inform both her scholarship and pedagogy. She developed and teaches Texas’ first class based on the life and career of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. She served as Editor of Chicana/Latina Studies from 2017-2022. She is published in Critical Studies in Media Communication; Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies; Review of Research in Education; Race Ethnicity & Education; and International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.


Dr. Jerry Gonzalez


Racial Justice Post-Doctoral Fellows


Dr. Carolina Arango-Vargas

Carolina Arango-Vargas holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology and a Certificate in Advanced Studies in Women's and Gender Studies from Syracuse University (2018). She has conducted ethnographic research with professional feminist NGOs and grassroots women's organizations of the Colombian women's movement. In particular, she focuses on the organizational and personal trajectories of popular-sector rural and urban women –popular women- who use feminism as a political tool to resist multiple forms of violence and discrimination. More broadly, Carolina's research interests include the development of women's political agency and political consciousness, the significance of feminismo popular in Latin America, and the impact of political violence on women's subjectivity, memory, and healing, particularly in her native Colombia. Carolina uses ethnographic methodologies and draws upon transnational and decolonial feminist theories, working at the intersection of political and feminist anthropology.

Arango-Vargas C. Perched on a Parched Hill: Popular Women, Popular Feminism, and the Struggle for Water in Medellín. Latin American Perspectives. May 2021. doi:10.1177/0094582X211013007



Dr. José G. Villagrán

I was born and raised on the migrant farmworker circuits between Northern California, South Texas, and Wisconsin and claim the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas as home. I completed an undergraduate degree in 2007 at Michigan State University in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science with minors in anthropology and Chicano/Latino Studies. I then attained an M.A. in Mexican American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012 and a Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from the same university in 2019. I studied migrant and seasonal farmworkers of the “Midwest stream” between South Texas and the U.S. Midwest for my doctoral dissertation and continue to study migratory Latinx labor in the U.S. Overall, I am interested in migration, labor, race, gender, social movements, anthropological theory, borderlands studies, and U.S.-Mexico relations. Given my background and research interests, I am thrilled to be in San Antonio working on the Democratizing Racial Justice Project.


Racial Justice Teaching Fellows


Aneesa Anderson

Aneesa Anderson is a Teaching Fellow in African American Studies. Her research and advocacy interests reside under the multicultural umbrella with an emphasis on Race-Based Trauma, LGBTQIA issues, and intersectionality of identities. Ms. Anderson is a member of the counseling honor society, Chi Sigma Iota, and a part of the illustrious Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Community advocacy drives her personal and professional goals. Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She received her M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lipscomb University in Nashville. Ms. Anderson has experience providing counseling services in integrative healthcare, nonprofit crisis services, and group practice. She hopes to obtain her counseling license and become a tenure-track professor post-graduation.


Madelyn Duffey

Madelyn Duffey is a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Madelyn received a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with concentrations in English and History from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a Master of Arts in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, and a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has served on the American Counseling Association (ACA) Professional Advocacy Task Force and the ACA Awards Committee and was the Awards Co-Chair for the Sigma Alpha Chi Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota. This year, Madelyn serves on the ACA Graduate Student Committee and as Treasurer for the Sigma Alpha Chi Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota. A Mellon Democratizing Racial Justice Fellow through the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UTSA, Madelyn teaches Introduction to Women's Studies to undergraduate students. Madelyn's research interests include intersectional identity development, multicultural counselor education, historical trauma, and trauma sites, feminist career counseling, and the mental health impact of political polarization.



Olga Estrada

Olga Estrada (They/She) is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Culture, Literacy, and Language program at UTSA. She is currently a Democratizing Social Justice fellow through the Andrew W. Mellon grant. As part of the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality, she teaches introductory courses in women, gender, and sexuality studies. As an Anzaldúan theorist, her research interest is centered on decolonial Chicana feminist theory and epistemology. Her current research involves critical autoethnography to explore the experience of being a Queer Chicana/x in higher education. She has served as a summer graduate research assistant for the Mexican American Studies Teachers’ Academy for three consecutive years. She has also currently an active board member of the Association for Jotería Arts, Activism, and Scholarship(AJAAS) and serves on the committee as a scholarship liaison.


Lourdes “Alex” Gutierrez

Lourdes “Alex” Gutierrez (she/her/ella) was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, yet calls San Antonio home since 2002. Since relocating to San Antonio, she completed an associate’s degree at Palo Alto Community college in 2013, and a Bachelor’s of English with a concertation in creative writing in December 2018 from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). As an undergrad, Lourdes was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program with whom she was able to focus on her research interest in topics related to critical race theory. During her time with McNair, she presented research based on anti-Semitism in William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury (1929), and research surrounding Mexican American representation in the film Giant (1956). Currently she is an English Master’s student at UTSA on her final year prior to graduation in the Fall of 2022. Her master’s thesis focuses on critical race theory and Chicano Shakespeare with an emphasis on adaptations of the Bard’s works that center around social justice for Chicanx students.  She is also a Graduate TA II for the department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (REGSS), teaching Mexican American Studies (MAS) Latina/o Cultural Expressions. In addition, she serves as the current Interim Managing Editor for Sagebrush Review, a student led publication for UTSA. Future plans include completing an English Ph.D. with a focus on MAS and critical race theory.


Racial Justice Interns


Andrea Izaguirre

Andrea Izaguirre was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She moved to the United States to pursue her higher education. She graduated in 2011 from San Antonio Community College with an Associates Degree in Digital Illustration Design and is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Fine Arts at The University of Texas at San Antonio with a concentration on Printmaking, graduating in Fall of 2023. During her time at UTSA, Andrea has been involved with the BAT Printmaking Society as president (2023), and is currently on her second semester of internship at Democratizing Racial Justice, exploring the socio-economic issues that revolt in her home country through art and printmaking.  
Outside of academic life, Andrea likes to spend time with her 3 years old son and husband, exploring the outdoors or going on family trips to museums and art shows. She also runs her own small business-art studio with her husband, creating merchandise through leather working, sewing, resin casting and illustration.



Jennifer Esquivel

Jennifer Esquivel is a native of San Antonio and is graduating from the University of Texas at San Antonio in the Spring of 2023. Jennifer is a double Psychology and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies major. She is an intern at Democratizing Racial Justice. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and engaging in new works from fellow feminists. Jennifer is a full-time Project Manager at a construction company. She enjoys finding solutions and being active in the field. After graduation, Jennifer plans on continuing her passion for Women's Studies.  



Mallika Kodati

My name is Mallika Kodati, and I am a first-generation, first-born Indian American, raised in San Antonio. I’m a pre-medical student majoring in Biochemistry, with a minor in Civic Engagement and graduating this Spring semester. I hope to be attending University of North Texas’ Applied Anthropology MA program starting in the fall, then applying to medical school. This is my second semester as a DRJ intern, and previously had focused on transnational feminisms. This semester, I’ve been focused on the South Asian diaspora in the U.S., the model minority myth, and histories and politics of South Asia to inform the diaspora studies. Overall, my interests include the above, as well as sociocultural and medical anthropology, social justice and histories of medicine and health.



Fernando Lopez

My name is Fernando Lopez (el, him, his) (they, them, theirs) I am a San Antonio West Sider and a child of Mexican immigrants, Nuevo Laredo Tamaulipas on my mother's side and Allende Coahuila on my father's side. Spanish is my first language. I was born in 1994 and am 28 years old. My sun sign is cancer and my moon sign is Taurus. I am a physically brown, non-binary person, with a fluid social position. To my community and myself, I am a Tlacuilo, activist, and healer. Lara Medina describes a Tlacuilo as “The tlacuilo, or divinely inspired artists of ancient Mesoamerica, live among us today. Chicanx/Latinx consciousness has been shaped largely by our artists, through a symbol system and a metaphorical language that has restored much of our Indigenous ancestral wisdom. (Medina, Gonzales, 2019 ) My art explores magical realism in indigenous Mexican culture and my experiences as an urban Chicanx artist with Coahuiltecan roots existing under late-stage capitalism and living in the 78207 area code of San Antonio. I use barrio scapes featuring familiar and recognizable landmarks to open a discussion about borderland experiences and gentrification in my neighborhood. With this combination of realistic representations of familiar scenes combined with the mystic summoning of spiritual entities and protectors, I attempt to weave together the inner and outer worlds to make sense of my experience as a center of awareness existing on the west side of San Antonio. I am brown and non-binary and I use my ancestral gifts to heal my community.



Brandon Prince

My name is Brandon Prince (he/his/him). I am a disabled veteran with an invisible disability and chronic illness. A closeted musician, thespian, and writer, Im also a first-generation college graduate having received a B.A. in Classical Studies from UTSA in 2012. After a religious and homeschooled upbringing I served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne but a nerve injury and subsequent medical retirement returned me to San Antonio. After failed attempts at keeping up with a full-time job or getting a law degree I have returned to higher education excited at examining difference and making un-sense of the nonsense in our modern society. 


Previous Racial Justice Interns

  • Matt Hinojosa

  • Jeannie Reyes

  • Vanessa Saldana

  • Pam Wylie

  • Vanessa Alvarado

  • Elisa Kern

  • Ariana Ost