May 23, 2024

Community Builder Wins College’s Highest Honor

Azucena Lizbeth Morales Santos BA ’24, who double-majored in Hispanic studies and sociology/anthropology, received this spring’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest honor. Named for an esteemed professor, the award recognizes a senior whose abilities and commitment have combined to produce work of the highest distinction.

Azucena Lizbeth Morales Santos (she/her)

Hometown: Hillsboro, Oregon, with roots in Santa Catarina Noltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico
Double Major: Hispanic Studies, Sociology and Anthropology (SOAN)
Minor: Ethnic Studies

Azucena Lizbeth Morales Santos BA ’24 is the winner of this year’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest academic honor. The award recognizes excellence in scholastic, intellectual, and creative achievements, and is presented during the undergraduate Honors Convocation ceremony preceding commencement in May.

We caught up with Azucena to learn more about her experiences at Lewis & Clark and her path to the Ratte Award.

What was your reaction to winning the Rena Ratte Award?

First, I am so thankful and proud to have been nominated alongside such academically excelling, outstanding, and wonderful peers: Nuzhat Hoque, Lauren Caldwell, Diego Varela Ruiz, Orion Whitcher, and Alexandra Flory. Despite all my academic accomplishments and roles in various community spaces, I did not think I would win the award. When Bruce Suttmeier [dean of the undergraduate college] announced the award—and referenced quotes from my professors who generously took the time to write my recommendation letters, and listed my community involvement for the past four years—I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude, pride, joy, and love. The love and support from my siblings and my L&C community gave me so much warmth.

Why did you choose to attend L&C?

I chose L&C for its financial aid package and its programming to support BIPOC, first-generation, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. It was also important to me to find a college with spaces that foster community and small class sizes to develop a strong relationship with my professors. I believed L&C would provide these things for me.

What parts of the L&C experience helped shape your path?

As a double major in SOAN and Hispanic studies with a minor in ethnic studies, I took a variety of anthropology, history, and Spanish courses. Some examples include History of Colonial Latin America, Spanish 301H (geared towards Spanish heritage speakers), Introduction to Anthropology, Race and Ethnicity in Latin America Global Perspectives, SOAN: Social Theory, History of Modern Mexico—and so many more! My most rewarding class was History of Immigration and Asylum Law, which challenged me academically and positioned me to understand the weight of asylum law in the United States.

Who were your faculty mentors?

I am indebted to Sarah Warren [associate professor of sociology and Latin America studies], Sepideh Bajracharya [assistant professor of anthropology with term], Magalí Rabasa [associate professor of Hispanic studies], Elliott Young [professor of history], Juan Carlos Toledano [professor of Hispanic studies], Freddy Vilches [associate professor of Hispanic studies], and Matthieu Raillard [associate professor of Hispanic studies]. They introduced me to the most profound critical thinking that extends beyond the classroom and into my daily life. Their teaching has been instrumental to me, my thesis, and how I carry myself. Moving forward, they lessened the weight and gave me the confidence to learn and challenge myself.

What do you think makes L&C special?

Lewis & Clark has introduced me to many opportunities that furthered my experience as a community member in leadership positions; a worker in different offices, like IME; and SAAB tutoring. Most importantly, I’ve become a more confident, skilled, and resilient person. Just as special, if not more so, are the staff, faculty, and students I have met at L&C who are caring and warm. They are strong people who do not settle for how things are but instead critically strategize for better programming to support L&C students.

What are your post-graduation plans?

A goal of mine since high school was to go to Oaxaca, Mexico, and visit my parents’ pueblo Santa Catarina Noltepec, Oaxaca. Through the Center of Social Change and Community Involvement—and the generous scholarship of President Robin Holmes-Sullivan—I had the opportunity to attend the Oaxaca immersion program right after graduation. Not only did I accomplish my goal of going to Oaxaca, but I connected with many Oaxacan college and high school students, as well as nonprofit organizations that empower marginalized communities.

Anything else you would like to add?

I came to L&C with the mindset that my Nae (mother in Mixteco) instilled in me, nada en este mundo es imposible, solo tienes que encontrar la manera (nothing in this world is impossible, you only have to find a way). Thank you to my L&C community, who consist of friends, professors, mentors, classmates, maintenance staff, Bon Appetit staff, IME staff, the Student Alumni Association, Pamplin fellows, the Center for Social Change staff, International Students and Scholars staff, Student Engagement staff, ASB government, Mossy Log students—and so many more spaces! You showed me that not only is there a way, but that you don’t have to find that way alone.

Hispanic Studies Sociology and Anthropology Ethnic Studies