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NMSU professor continues advocacy work through CAMP

Growing up in a small, impoverished community in Anthony, N.M., Cynthia Bejarano, associate professor in criminal justice, learned quickly she wanted to get involved in the justice process. And now, her influences have carried over into the work she does with the New Mexico State University College Assistance Migrant Program.



Associate Professor Cynthia Bejarano helped write the grant that started the CAMP program at NMSU. (Courtesy Photo)

In December 2009, CAMP completed its eighth year of serving the educational needs of migrant or seasonal farm workers or their children through advocacy, financial support, tutoring, counseling and mentoring.

The program has seen great success boasting eight students who have graduated with associate's degrees, 29 with bachelor's degrees, four with master's degrees and one student in the process of completing his doctorate in biology.

"CAMP has provided a very safe educational environment for students who might be academically timid," Bejarano said. "Almost all of them are first generation college students. They're going on to work in highly competitive fields and doing tremendous things with their lives. Hopefully, we've planted that seed of advocacy."

That seed was planted very early in Bejarano's life while growing up in a community that saw violence regularly. Bejarano said she not only saw physical violence with the brutal beating of her father, who was trying to stop a burglary in their neighborhood, but she also witnessed a social violence as well.

Bejarano said she's been a farm worker advocate all her adult life and that it stems from growing up seeing people from her community working in the fields. In her high school days she would pass by the crops in the morning on the way to school.

In college, she worked at Doņa Ana Community College with several Spanish-speaking students who at one point had worked in the fields. Soon after, Bejarano began volunteering at the Centro Legal Campesino, once part of Southern New Mexico Legal Services. It was there that she would take the law student externs out to the fields to check with the workers for OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) violations and recruit potential clients. It was continually an eye-opening experience for a young college student.

Bejarano earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from NMSU, but went on to receive her doctorate in criminal justice from Arizona State University. She even did her honors thesis on farm workers throughout the border region.

It was during her first semester as a faculty member that she had the opportunity to implement CAMP on the NMSU campus. Bejarano received an enthusiastic blessing to go forward with the effort from then Interim President William Flores. She and others like Laura Gutierrez Spencer, Chicano Programs director, and others no longer at NMSU ? Jozi de Leon, Juan Franco and Elisa Sanchez ? wrote the grant to kick-start the program. It was established the next fall in 2002. CAMP is both federally and state funded through the office of Migrant Education. The five-year grant was written by the CAMP staff and renewed in 2007.

The University of New Mexico and University of Texas at El Paso also have CAMP programs on their respective campuses providing an even bigger network of support for farm worker students regionally. Even with this, Bejarano said NMSU has had a high retention rate with CAMP students.

"They know they can achieve their dreams due to the staff who are dedicated and keep this place running," Bejarano said. "These kids don't have many opportunities to break the cycles of poverty and despite the obstacles, these young people are able to prove they can excel in college and become successful."

In addition to working with CAMP and her duties as a criminal justice professor, Bejarano is also co-editing a book that focuses on the feminicides in Juarez and Chihuahua City, Mexico, an issue she has dedicated a large amount of time to during her career.

Bejarano will also see another book she co-edited be published in May 2010 on the same topic. "Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas," co-edited by Bejarano and Rosa-Linda Fregoso, will be published through the Duke University Press and can be found in the Duke spring catalog online.