Compassionate Advocate

By Matt Hawkins
June 9, 2015

Judith de la Vega’s soft voice may not cut through a noisy crowd, but her relentless passion for society’s underdogs and compassion for the voiceless commands attention in any setting. The once-aimless freshman developed her voice through Bradley’s myriad social justice organizations and relationships with mentors.

De la Vega ’15, a criminal justice major from Lemont, Illinois, admitted she “was that student who didn’t care” as a freshman trying to form her identity away from home. That changed as she connected with the Association of Latin American Students, peer mentoring program and Bradley Advocating for Diversity.

She found her life’s call to advocacy as a sophomore volunteer for the Tunnel of Oppression awareness campaign.

“It hurt me knowing people were victims of so many stigmas,” de la Vega said. “From that experience, I realized who I was. I had a passion to be a voice for those who don’t have one and to educate people on those issues.” 

She also felt empowered by mentors like Norris Chase, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Chase taught de la Vega’s social identity course and advised many of her clubs through ODI.

“He empowers students like me and encourages us to step out of our comfort zones to get involved,” she said. “He’s good at encouraging us to try things and see how those work out.”

The social identity class, part of the sociology minor, helped de la Vega work through questions of identity and purpose as she contemplated how to channel the passion discovered through Tunnel of Oppression.

She quickly recognized she had a gift for relational advocacy. Through the various clubs and mentoring program, de la Vega invested in classmates like Chase and others had done for her. 

“If I can change one person’s life, that’s all I need,” de la Vega said. “I’ve had so many positive influences at Bradley. Even though it took me a while to realize how important they were to help me succeed, those relationships were the most important ones I’ve had.”

De la Vega’s quiet, steady voice made a mark on the mentoring program, which pairs new and upperclass students. Remembering her early struggles, the now-confident Hilltop veteran used her story to encourage younger students. She watched as several mentees blossomed through their relationships. 

“It’s an amazing feeling to know you’ve had a positive impact on another person,” she said. “I always was looking for that person to look up to, and I found that in the organizations I joined.”

These campus experiences and her academic understanding of the criminal justice system fueled de la Vega’s desire to make advocacy a career. To make that a reality, she will pursue a public service management graduate degree at DePaul University in the fall. That degree will better prepare her to advocate for underrepresented students in high school and college settings.

“Education is the foundation of everything, but there isn’t much emphasis placed on juveniles in our system,” she said. “They deserve a voice. We’re not doing enough to implement programs they really need, so I’d like to be part of that process.”