Juan’s Story

I was former high school teacher in the barrios of Phoenix, Arizona. I also was high school coach, administrator, mentor. I developed curriculum in schools and worked with undocumented students: students that were in and out of gangs, and others that were just looking for someone to hear them out. I had to bury a few of my students. It was a rewarding and hard time. I battled through sleepless nights and even existential questions that diluted my idealism.

I came from the classroom experience. It was there that I began to test out my theories and then I wanted to learn more about my frustrations with the system and how I could be change agent. I left Arizona and earlier, the barrios of south Los Angeles with big dreams. I was hoping that some net would catch me. Austin and UT, through all my ups and downs, became a place of tremendous growth.

Why UT?

I came to C & I and specifically to the cultural studies in education program because of the faculty. My research interests were compatible with the work being done in the program. I attended a conference in Austin a few months before I applied. While in in Austin, I walked around the campus, did some research on the cultural studies in education program, and I knew this was the place for me. I also had this gut feeling that this program was “different,” “special,” “rare.” I wanted depth. Going to school just to get a degree was not good enough. I was starving for peers, ideas, and a community that was thinking about Latin@ education issues from an embodied locale where memory, trauma, and emotion were all put on the table.

While at UT, I attended research conferences, published articles, participated in community events, and was introduced to a larger community that supported me. I interacted with local school districts and even got teach at Johnston H.S. in east Austin. Also, the cultural studies in education program was a space of incredibly bright, critical, and caring people. I found my little click within this space. There were many times when I chatted with my peers at random restaurants, parking lots, and post-conference sites until 2 or 3am. We pushed each other. I learned to fall in love again with contradictions, irresolution, and complexity. We all have gone on to influence education and schooling within various spheres.

Life After UT

In North Carolina, as an emerging Latin@ community, I have been able to take on leadership roles. For instance, I designed the first ever “Chican@/Mexican American Experience in Schools” course for our new education minor at UNC. I draw heavily from the knowledge and mentorship that I received at UT. My research, teaching, and the questions that I ask are pushing through long-held boundaries out here. To this day, I still use the work and advice of my UT mentors. My UT degree is also about responsibility. I am one of the few working-class kids that had access to professors who are leaders in their fields. I share, advocate, and push through various struggles with this in mind.

Advice for students

Apply to the cultural studies in education program 🙂 Bring humility, vulnerability, faith, and a critical lens. This will be a marathon for the soul.

source: http://www.edb.utexas.edu/education/departments/ci/alumni/carillo/



Scholarship boys

Often, when we hear stories of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds making their way into upper-level classes and eventually higher education, the stories are clearly about individuals overcoming adversity to find success. Dr. Juan Carrillo, assistant professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, has been researching the narratives of Mexican-origin “scholarship boys” who have attained a graduate-level education. His work highlights both the gains and losses these individuals encounter as they make their way into academia.

Mexican-origin scholarship boys

Dr. Carrillo’s study focuses on Mexican-origin “scholarship boys.” He uses the term “Mexican-origin” to identify the participants of his study as being of Mexican descent. All of the participants were born and raised in low socioeconomic, urban areas on the United States and are the children of Mexican-born parents.

The idea of the “scholarship boy” is a theoretical framework that addresses the identity struggles that can be experienced by working-class students who achieve achieve high levels of educational attainment and pursue, at minimum, a master’s degree. Many first-generation students who achieve high academic achievement assimilate into the middle-class culture of schooling. Scholarship boys are different. They do achieve high academic success, but they fight against bounded and linear forms of assimilation. This resistance can lead scholarship boys to not be considered academically successful because their own notion of being successful may not be in line with the institution’s. Many of the scholarship boys’ experiences are filled with angst and tension as a result of the relationship of their desires to achieve at high levels in school and the needs of their working-class homes.


Dr. Carrillo’s research focused on the experiences of four Mexican-origin scholarship boys. Two of the participants were professors; two were graduate students. Dr. Carrillo conducted four interviews with each of the participants and analyzed documents such as journals, emails, essays, and creative works. This data was then used to create holistic portraits of his participants. Dr. Carrillo noted three main themes among his participants. The first was the concept of home as the idea that where you are from influences who you are and how you make decisions. The second was the enactment of masculinity as an intellectual performance. And the third was about the culturally-situated intelligences of the Mexican-origin scholarship boys within the institution of education. Within these themes were issues of personal disconnect and tension with the culture of education.

Four recommendations


What does it mean to be gifted? Gifted education is both culturally and politically loaded. Just as schooling promotes certain values, social norms, and perspectives, gifted assessments are also laced with these cultural perspectives that, for the most part, do not address the perspectives of minority students. Teachers need to work towards unpacking these cultural and ideological underpinnings of giftedness as an effort to disrupt the status quo.


Currently, the schools system is set up in a similar fashion to an assembly line. Students learn certain things in certain spaces and then move on. This approach to education compartmentalizes and approaches academic goals as a linear sequence of events with a singular ending point of “achievement.” This doesn’t make sense for a society as diverse as ours. Everyone’s idea of “making it” isn’t the same. This leads to a disconnect and turns schooling into an unwelcoming, at times even hostile, place for those who do not share the same idea of “making it” or “achievement” as the school. Schools need to be places where achievement is not the politicized term that it is today. Schools need to be spaces where individuals can explore the many aspects of achievement as they develop. Schools need to be sanctuaries.


Colleges and universities pride themselves on having a diverse population and having first-generation college students. However, simply getting these students into higher education isn’t where the work is finished. Universities are reflections of the dominant society’s social perspectives; this often leaves students from non-dominant cultures feeling isolated and uprooted in an unfamiliar space. These students need to have space to fellowship with similar individuals in order to help them make sense of the often disorienting construction of values and demands of the cultural production of the university. This space also needs to allow the students to talk back to the university to help create a more open and democratic institution.


Literacies are plural and contextual. Scholarship boy literacies are situated in the embodiment of a critical, multiple consciousness. In this context, there is a heightened emphasis on empowerment; every word, movement, and action is an important enactment of empowerment. It is important that educators embrace a critical consciousness in order to support and develop the scholarship boy literacies.

So what?

Latino students are among the lowest performing groups at the secondary and post-secondary level. Dr. Carrillo’s work is helping to identify where and how the educational system is failing this population. As our nation’s population continues to grow more diverse, the function of our schools must also change. Dr. Carrillo’s study offers insight to some specific changes that could yield a world of change for all students.

Dr. Carrillo’s Tips

Make the situatedness of school explicit.
What counts as education? This question cannot be answered objectively because it relies on the exchange in interplay of multiple contexts. Dr. Carrillo found that most of the participants in his research did not feel that their view of education was in line with their educators. As such, schooling became something that they needed to overcome in order to find their own success. The cultural and political influences on education should be made explicit with our students. This can help our students navigate the different cultural worlds of home and school.
Don’t ignore the tensions.
There are some things that are just easier to avoid discussing. Things like the tensions of gender, race, or class. However, it is imperative that educators recognize and openly discuss these tensions. Students, especially students who are not members of the dominant culture, recognize and live in these tensions. These tensions can be external (tensions with the system) or internal (tensions of feelings of losing their own culture). Ignoring and not addressing these tensions only serves to further isolate the students.
Make their histories accessible.
The participants in Dr. Carrillo’s study identified the library as a sanctuary. It was there they were able to explore their own cultural history in a more meaningful way than it was being done in the classroom. This cultural knowledge helped them better understand themselves and the system.
Channel the fight.
In Dr. Carrillo’s study, there were many themes of competition and struggle. The individuals he worked with were empowered by the education they came to on their own terms. For them, knowledge is strength. This force will be there no matter what educators do. If educators ignore the tensions and don’t help students unpack where they are from, this force can turn to damaging things. Educators can help students unpack their home culture, make sense of the system, and channel their fight to issues of societal injustice that are important to them.

Researcher bio

Carrillo’s research includes a focus on Latino/a, Chicano/a education, Latino males (k-12 & higher education), the social and cultural foundations of education, and anthropology of education. His current work explores the schooling trajectories of working-class, Mexican-origin males.  He is particularly interested in exploring competing conceptions of “making it,” intellectual masculinities, the gender gap in education, and the strategies used by Latino “ghetto nerds” to succeed academically all while affirming a hybrid cultural identity.  Additionally, he is a co-principal investigator in the evaluation of the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program within Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. He will focus on the impact of mentoring relationships on Latino male students.

complete bio can be found on the School of Education website.

source: http://thewell.web.unc.edu/2011/11/28/scholarship-boys/



VIDEO INTERVIEW: Learning to be Latina/o

video: Learning to be Latina/o