Commencement 2023: Tatiana Freitas is an educator committed to justice, equity, community and fellowship

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 10, 2023 – Tatiana Freitas wasn’t going to let her younger brother, Geovanni, be the first in the family to graduate from college. His drive and determination, along with her family’s encouragement to pursue higher education, kept her on track even when she was experiencing personal challenges.

“I came into college not knowing what I wanted to do,” Freitas said. “I started off in a different major that wasn’t for me. Then I asked myself, ‘What does it mean to pass onto the next generation?’”

That is when she decided to pursue a degree in elementary education.

As an Afro-Latina woman from Providence, Freitas felt that she could be a role model and relate to students of different cultural backgrounds. With Cape Verde and Dominican heritage, claiming her identity has been very important to her because, “my skin color wasn’t always welcome,” she said.

At URI, she immediately felt a sense of belonging and positive reinforcement, especially from the Talent Development program faculty.

“It was uncomfortable for me at first to be the only person of color in the room. That changed the more I received support from faculty from both (Talent Development and School of Education) departments as well as from my late uncle, Dr. Earl Smith,” she said. (Dr. Smith was an assistant dean in the URI College of Arts and Sciences).

Emphasizing the value of education isn’t a common conversation in many multicultural households and isn’t an expectation, she said, and she wants to change that.

“I want to provide my students with the support that I received at URI through the Talent Development program and student organizations. It’s the reason I made it through. I want them to know that there are lots of resources available that they can use, like I did,” she said.

Freitas said that her roles as a resident assistant in Hopkins Hall, an executive board member of the Cape Verdean Student Association, and her strong Christian faith also contributed to her academic success and gave her valuable life lessons. “My relationship with God has given me the discipline to speak up for myself and for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Just before Commencement, Freitas completed her student teaching assignment at the Broad Rock Middle School in Wakefield, a school she said allowed her to be true to her identity, while helping her learn more classroom management skills.

She also wants to inspire her students to stand up for themselves but be kind and respectful in the process. “This is something I didn’t teach them, I showed them.”

Freitas sees the future of education changing to meet students’ needs in different developmental stages. She wants to explore various ways to measure a student’s knowledge besides tests or unrealistic standards.

“Tatiana will be the kind of teacher who lifts others up, both at her school and beyond. Students in her classroom will have a teacher who overflows with compassion. They will know a teacher who is deeply committed to justice and equity.  She will walk beside them on a journey to who they are becoming, and will look at each opportunity to teach as an opportunity to grow alongside her students,” said Virginia Killian Lund, URI assistant professor of elementary English language arts.

Freitas’ commitment to socially just educational opportunities goes beyond the lessons in the classroom, as evidenced by the StudaKuCabesa fundraiser that she organized last summer to collect donations and school supplies, and deliver them to the school districts in Órgãos, Santiago, Cape Verde, where her grandmother hails from.

“This was a big part of me implementing being a global citizen, which I learned from my studies at URI, into my life outside of academics. The kids that were helped were very grateful to receive the support and be given a greater opportunity to expand their education.”

What’s next for Tatiana Freitas?

She is considering ministry. And will use the skills that she has attained at URI to advocate for educational equity around the world and continue bridge gaps of indifferences.