This blog was written by Yvette Ramirez, MPA '21.
My name is Yvette Ramirez and I am a recent graduate of the MPA program at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), where I specialized in international development. I was also a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Student Representative on SPIA’s student government. I am writing this blog post in the hopes that people with historically marginalized identities can identify with my story as they consider whether to apply to or attend SPIA.
I am a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of working-class Mexican immigrants. Thanks to the support of a youth non-profit, mentors, and a lot of hard work I attended Harvard, where I majored in sociology. After graduating, I spent six years working in grassroots non-profit organizations in the US and in several Latin American countries. At various moments in my career, I realized that in order to be a more effective advocate for marginalized populations, I needed to learn the language of policy-makers or become a policy-maker myself.
I wanted to attend graduate school, but was worried about the costs. Luckily, I heard about Princeton’s tuition-free MPA through a chance encounter with an alum. My other concern was that my lack of economics coursework in undergrad would hurt my chances of admission (I was wrong!). As I worked on my applications, I took quantitative courses online to prepare myself and completed an economics course at my local community college. If you have similar concerns, perhaps you can browse through online course materials just to demystify the subject, refresh your knowledge, or boost your confidence. However that is not at all necessary! MPA students truly come in with varying strengths and interests, and Princeton has the resources to ensure that every single student walks away with top-notch skills.
When it came time to decide what school to attend, I narrowed down my list to Princeton and another university that had been my dream school. During Admitted Students Weekend, I was hosted by two current students who were women of color, who really provided the reassurance I needed. They told me about SPIA’s tightly-knit student community and how profoundly people care about social justice. They showed me syllabi and pages of their homework and stayed up late at night answering my questions. What stood out about SPIA were the deep bonds between caring, dedicated individuals.
True to their commitment to social justice, my hosts were also candid about SPIA’s areas of growth. Our fully-funded tuition and living stipend means that affordability is far less of an issue here than at other schools, and therefore we have a very diverse student body that keeps getting more diverse every year. However, there are other ways our community can become more equitable and inclusive too. My hosts told me about the work of students who identify areas in the curriculum and in student life that could more directly address issues like systemic racism and inequality. Both of them were involved in these efforts through various student groups: Students and Alumni of Color (SAOC), Students for Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED), and as a DEI Student Representative.
The key thing for me was learning that the students at SPIA will not sugar coat or ignore problems, but rather they will use their skills to organize, advocate, and ultimately succeed in making SPIA - and the world - more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Today, I can tell you that Princeton lived up to the picture that my hosts painted for me. Much of my professional development and friendships at Princeton actually came about through my work as a DEI Student Representative. It was a true honor (and an unmatched learning opportunity) to be in the midst of my classmates. I am walking away with valuable skills that I can apply in any policy context - and with a meaningful network of like-minded friends.
To fellow BIPOC and/or first-generation college graduates: please, please just give it a shot and submit your application!
Picture courtesy of Yvette, taken while at Princeton University Commencement Ceremony, May 2021.