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The Family You Choose

by | Nov 12, 2019 | Aggie Families

Valencia Scott had made it.

The Sacramento-native had achieved her dream and gotten into a very prestigious, Ivy-league university straight out of high school. However, soon into her second year in 2013, she was sexually assaulted and her world came crumbling down around her.

“I had a lot of health issues — physically and mentally — after I was assaulted. I felt very alone,” she said. “I dropped out of school completely and wasn’t planning on ever going back.”

In 2014, Scott moved home and started on a journey of recovering. After a few months, Scott’s older sister encouraged her to enroll in some community college courses as a positive outlet because Scott always had excelled academically. One course soon became five and soon Scott enrolled as a full-time student at American River College.

As Scott resumed her educational journey, she made finding a community a priority.

“I realized that when I was at that university the first time, I just felt the community was lacking,” she said. “There was no retention center; there was no community and diversity center; sexual assault was a big conversation at the time, but it was really difficult for me for me to find resources or support.”

Edward Spang

Valencia Scott speaks at Fall Welcome 2019. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

At American River College, Scott got involved with an organization called UNITE and played an integral role in helping the diversity and inclusion organization in its first year. During her time there, she also served as a senator, vice president and president of student government at American River College.

“I really give that community I found credit for giving me the tools I needed not only to recover, but also to figure out who I was as a person and what I wanted my college experience to be,” she said. “It allowed me to create my own experience and really dictate what I wanted my narrative to be for higher ed.”

When she was ready to transfer in 2017, Scott chose UC Davis because of the friendly environment, the resources for supporting students of color, and the prevalence of transfer students.

“The biggest thing I was worried about when coming to Davis was finding community, but everyone here was honestly so welcoming,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the community I’ve been able to build here at Davis.”

Scott — who is a fourth-year double-major in anthropology and international relations, and who is writing honors theses in the subjects — is the mental health coordinator for the AB 540 and Undocumented Student Center. She also volunteers as undergraduate legal clinic director for the Imani Clinic, which provides health services for underserved communities in Sacramento. Additionally, she is president of the Black Pre-Law Student Association, where she advocates for student safety and the support of underrepresented students.

“All three of those experiences together really served as a support and a growth network for me,” said Scott, who also is a student advisor to the chancellor. “I’m an introvert by nature so I had to make myself uncomfortable; but, the more that I got involved in spaces where I met other students of color, I got this grounding sense that we’re all in this together.”

Scott also met a core group girlfriends, her “Aggie Family,” who have been integral in helping her “write a narrative of success” at UC Davis as she pursues her dream to be an immigration lawyer.

“My immediate family has been a great sounding board for me,” she said. “But in terms of the family I’ve chosen at Davis, they’ve really been supportive in helping me manage my academic load and build community. They really lifted me up.”

Scott continued, “I’ve struggled for a long time, with being assaulted and dropping out of college, and they are the people I can go to with no judgment. Their friendship has made all the difference. It’s made me stronger.”

Friend Aminah Ortiz-Simon ’18 said she feels the same way about Scott.

“Valencia is definitely one of the hardest working people I know. She also is really, really funny, and incredibly empathetic and kind,” Ortiz-Simon said. “And to have friends that look like you with similar life experiences, it really does make a difference in your educational experience.”

But, according to the young women, the bond they share is less about their past and more about their future.

“Valencia, I and our group of friends, we all have big ambitions and are very serious about those ambitions,” Ortiz-Simon said. “The best things we want for ourselves, we wanted to seek that in our friends. That’s what we found in each other — in the best way possible.”

Scott agreed.

“For me,” she said, “this whole experience has really been about the family you choose.”