By Alicia Wanek
“Believe in yourself. We believe in you.” For Alejandrina Guzman, this message of unwavering support from her parents has been a guiding principle throughout her life. With that confidence coupled with an infectious optimism, a genuine kindness and a selfless desire to serve others, this newly-elected president of the University of Texas at Austin student government is living a life so large it defies her small stature.
She’s a first-generation American and the first generation to go to college. And now, the first Latina and differently-abled student body president in the history of all Big 12 schools, Alejandrina and her running-mate, Vice President Micky Wolf are a powerful team committed to representing every student at UT. Their “RALLY” slogan during their campaign to Represent All Longhorns Like You stems from experiences early on in her academic career at UT that led Alejandrina to want to be an agent of change. “If I don’t like something, I might as well be part of changing it,” she says. Micky has been proud to partner with her, saying, “Alejandrina is an extremely unique person. Everyone who comes into contact with her is better for it…The university is better off for having her as president.”
Experiences during her sophomore year could have left Alejandrina dejected and bitter, but instead it became a chance for this resilient young woman to embrace new opportunities. She was struggling to determine her academic path and had changed her major multiple times. She was experiencing difficulties getting around a campus that often wasn’t easily accessible to someone in a wheelchair, and then she didn’t get a bid from the sorority she was hoping to join during rush. “I’d felt good about the interaction I’d had with them,” she says. When she wasn’t accepted, she remembers feeling “confused and hurt.” She learned later that she didn’t get in because they didn’t know how to accommodate her mobility needs or how to navigate her wheelchair.
“It was my first glimpse of social injustice. It was pretty much discrimination,” Alejandrina states. She wrote a letter to the sorority and ended it with the message that “hopefully no one else is treated like me.” The sorority later offered her a bid, but she realized, “If I wear those letters, I’m representing the same organization that discriminated against me. How could I represent them?” Just days later, she was invited on Facebook to join the Hispanic Student Association. Having grown up in the majority white city of Azle, Texas, she’d had little connection to her culture outside of her family and decided to give it a shot. Now she looks back and says, “Honestly, I don’t think I’d be the same person today” without having joined. That experience led her to get involved with other organizations on campus, many in which she has held offices, and many which are involved in advocacy. She even discovered her major of Mexican-American studies. Then, despite some initial hesitation, at the last minute she ran for student government and was elected the university-wide representative. That led to her continued commitment to representing the university as president today.
There’s no doubt she and Micky plan to fight for all the communities on campus, but Alejandrina has been a fighter from the moment she was born. Though the doctor knew that her mother was carrying a baby that would be differently-abled, he didn’t tell her parents until the day before she was born. She arrived into this world not breathing for nearly nine minutes. With a little help from the physicians and nurse in the room, she began breathing on her own. At first doctors told her parents that with her diagnosis of diastrophic dysplasia she likely wouldn’t survive. A day went by, then a week, then months. Then doctors said she wouldn’t talk, eat or walk. Her mom said, “No, that won’t be the case.” Her parents worked diligently with her to reach every milestone, and as she grew the message was, “Don’t ever say you can’t do it.” Alejandrina remembers her dad asking her, “You can’t do it or you don’t want to?” Even as a small child trying to get on the couch, they encouraged her to figure out how to do it herself. She’s grown up believing there’s no reason she can’t. “A big reason I am the way I am is my parents,” she says.
Micky says he and Alejandrina tell incoming students, “You can’t be afraid to risk failure when it comes to trying new things.” He tells parents of incoming freshmen they should encourage their kids to take risks because you can learn something from them no matter the outcome. Alejandrina is certainly proof of that. Their goal for this upcoming year is to empower fellow students. Alejandrina’s life story is empowering itself, and she’s only 22 years old. Just imagine what big dreams are ahead for this inspiring young woman as she moves out into the world.