Lisi Burciaga/Courier
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Emmanuel Gomez was already a Lancer when he got arrested and thought being a student might save him from a conviction and harsh sentence. It didn’t; the district attorney still took his case and ran with it, all the way to a guilty verdict from a jury. What did save him was his community.

Community Overcoming Recidivism through Education (CORE) and the Formerly Incarcerated Radical Scholars Team (FIRST) are two intertwined groups at PCC dedicated to supporting and advocating for students who have been impacted by incarceration and the prison system. A focus of their mission is to bring change to their own communities. The primary advisor for both groups is Dr. Anthony Francoso, who teaches sociology at PCC.

Gomez said his involvement with these groups is what saved him from a harsher sentence, and aided in his release from prison.

“The only thing that saved me was that the judge recognized that I was in school, he saw the letters that Francoso gave me, he saw the letters that Mark from DSPS [Mark Sakata from Disabled Students Programs/Services] gave me,” Gomez said. “They saw my involvement, my job at the food pantry. They saw these things, and that’s what saved me. That’s why I’m speaking to you right now, and not in jail.”

On the PCC website, CORE states that its main objective “is to develop a holistic approach empowering students to succeed in higher education and beyond.”

Gomez defines both groups in simpler terms: “We advocate for our peers on campus of different populations, whether they’ve been incarcerated or impacted by the system one way or another.”

Recently, CORE took part in the Career Communities Social Justice Conference which took place from Tuesday, September 15 to Thursday, September 17. The conference included many different panels with presenters from the Transfer Center, Associated Students, and more.

Members were pleased to find that the student involvement was very diverse. CORE and FIRST member Veronica Barrera pointed out that having these kinds of discussions is a huge first step towards change.

The goal of the conference, as stated on the PCC website, was to support students “in selecting, preparing for, and achieving [their] career and academic goals while learning how a wide range of careers can contribute to social change.”

Gomez participated in the conference as a student, not as a representative of CORE. However, he still stressed the importance of action, on campus and beyond. 

With mental health being a huge part of the groups’ focus, they have facilitated growth and change among students.

“Every time we meet up for FIRST, even in the spring, the one first question is how’s everyone’s mental health today?” Barrera said. “And that showed so much care for me. I deal with my personal life and my work life, and at times I felt like I didn’t have the resources I needed.”

Barrera works in a hospital and has been unable to attend protests due to the pandemic. However, she says she has learned so much in the past 6 months, due to online support and resources. Having gone to PCC in 2009, she notes how social justice efforts have grown on campus.

“In 2009, we didn’t have these conversations,” Barrera said. “I’m very grateful that groups like CORE and FIRST have been developed in the last couple of years, to kind of grow with social justice.”

These groups give students a platform for new perspectives and ideas to be shared with their peers on campus.

“If any headline resonates with us, we’re going to speak about it,” Gomez said. “We’re constantly trying to address these things to our peers because if we feel that way, we know that a good amount might feel the same way.” 

He said he is grateful for the opportunities FIRST has given him, including a job on campus, and is using his platform to give the same opportunities to others like him. 

The climate surrounding social justice beyond PCC exhibits how frustrating progress can be, but groups like CORE and FIRST aim to show that even small steps are steps forward.

“We want to see change, and sometimes we don’t see it in the bigger platforms, nationally, but we are doing it within our community, within our college,” Barrera said.

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