A personal story has the power to change hearts and minds, to impact and shape public policy for the benefit of whole communities. Andrea Duarte ’19 discovered this power in action as a student, and as St. Kate’s newest Phillips Scholar, the political science major aims to share the stories of Latino immigrants with lawmakers.
Duarte was recently selected as one of six Minnesota private college students to receive the prestigious $16,500 Phillips Scholarship, awarded to potential leaders with outstanding academic credentials who intend to dedicate a portion of their lives to community service.
Through her winning proposal, Stories from Unheard Voices, Duarte will collaborate with two Worthington, Minnesota organizations — St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, an initiative of six school districts with the goal to create multicultural awareness and understanding.
Her intent is to capture the stories and synthesize them for lawmakers, ultimately to help influence policies and build a stronger community in Minnesota.
“I love my Latin American people. With the growing hatred and bigotry towards Latinos in this country — particularly towards Mexican people — I knew I wanted to focus on immigrants specifically. I want people to know how hard they work to be here. I want to tell their stories,” she said.
She chose her hometown for its rich diversity and significant Latino community.
“We have immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico. We almost have the whole of Latin America in there!” said Duarte. “Through these interviews, I want to build trust and really get to know their stories and why they migrated to the United States."
Duarte hopes the stories will also educate Minnesota citizens about why their immigrant neighbors choose to leave their countries for the U.S. She wants to build state pride in its Latino heritage.
“We hear a lot about our Norwegian history. But in Worthington, the minority populations are becoming the majority. It’s time to tell our Latin American stories.”
Three years ago as a high school senior, Duarte had not even heard of St. Kate’s. But a chance encounter with the Honorable Wilhelmina Wright changed that. The Minnesota Supreme Court “went on the road” with one of their trials, bringing the proceedings to Worthington, Minnesota. As senior class president, Duarte was assigned to assist Wright, who was an associate justice at the time.
Wright was so taken with Duarte's story, that she asked about college, and more importantly, “do you know about St. Kate’s?” Duarte did not. Coming from a school with a significant population of low-income students, private colleges were never discussed.
“It angered me actually that I didn’t know about St. Kate’s or Macalester or St. Thomas before my senior year. Our school didn't focus on that. Just thinking about low-income students — do they have the money? Do they have the grades?” she said.
Duarte's parents drove her to the Twin Cities and Wright took her around to visit the local private colleges. The two discussed St. Kate’s, but Duarte didn’t need convincing — it was love at first sight.
“I fell in love with the fact that St. Kate’s is about women empowerment. I’m very passionate about women’s rights, and I also wanted to be on a campus where my education is very, very focused,” she said.
A daughter of immigrants, Duarte initially declared a social work major with the intention of helping people like herself.
“And then I had the opportunity to go with Sister Simone Campbell [and NETWORK] to Washington D.C. — and everything changed,” she explained. “I loved being in our nation’s Capitol, I loved talking to my representatives, and I got to meet Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a St. Kate’s alumna.”
She spoke with her mother afterwards to discuss changing her major to political science.
“I want to be a lawmaker, or a change-maker. I want to study policies and policy-making. So here I am, throwing myself into political science, and so far, it’s exactly where I need to be.”
Since making the switch, Duarte continues to strengthen her own voice and build advocacy experience. She was recently appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to serve on the Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet, a new public–private collaboration between the Governor's Office and the Women's Foundation of Minnesota.
When the Phillips Scholarship opportunity came along, Duarte seized the opportunity to merge her growing scholarly work with what she's witnessed locally and in Washington D.C.
“Stories are a critical part of lobbying. It’s not enough to show lawmakers numbers and stats. You need to share people’s stories, and explain how the policies are affecting them,” she said.
Duarte hopes to eventually publish a book of the interviews she’ll collect through Stories from Unheard Voices. With support from the Phillips Scholarship, she’s checked off the first step toward that goal.
More about the Phillips Scholarship
The Phillips Family Foundation recognizes and rewards private college students, from a variety of disciplines, who strive to make life better for those with unmet needs. Students from Minnesota's 16 private colleges are challenged to think creatively and become community-service leaders. Since its inception, 11 St. Kate’s students have been recognized with this scholarship — six in the last seven years.
At St. Catherine University, the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women facilitates the annual process of selecting a finalist who competes for the Phillips Scholarship. For more information visit stkate.edu/centerforwomen.
By Sharon Rolenc