Eliza RamirezCaption: Eliza M. Ramirez is Cal State Fullerton’s 2011 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement. Photo by Karen TapiaDownload Photo

Future Lawyer Recognized

Student Wants to Help Abused Women, Wins Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award

The look of complete helplessness in a distraught and abused mother’s face struck Eliza M. Ramirez so deeply two years ago that she decided to make helping such victims her life’s purpose.

That gaze “was so significant to me because she needed legal advice, but she couldn't afford it,” said Ramirez, a political science and women’s studies major. “She was physically and mentally abused by her husband. She was poor. She didn’t speak English, and she had four kids. She looked at me without blinking, without words, without hope. That moment obligated me to help.”

Soon after, while volunteering in a women’s shelter, Ramirez met a frightened 26-year-old sex slave, and the encounter pushed her to pledge to pursue a law degree and eventually serve as an attorney for wounded women.

For her conviction and good deeds, Ramirez has been awarded the 2011-12 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement with the additional distinction of being named a Murray L. Galinson Scholar. A trustee emeritus of the California State University Board of Trustees, Galinson endowed a scholarship to recognize Hearst scholars who best exemplify extraordinary public service to their community. The honor includes a $6,000 scholarship.

“I’m overwhelmed with this award,” Ramirez said. “It’s humbling and I'm honored.”

She was recognized with other Hearst Award honorees during a ceremony at the Sept. 20 CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach.

The news came as no surprise to her mentors, who describe the 21-year-old senior as “dedicated,” “committed” and “passionate.”

“As with most excellent students, Eliza is very serious about her education,” Valerie R. O’Regan, associate professor of political science, wrote in her letter of recommendation for Ramirez. “Eliza is one of those students who realizes that getting good grades is not the only way to educate oneself; it is also important for her to be active in her university and to give back to her community. ... Her ability to motivate herself to get things done in the best way possible tells me that she will succeed in her endeavors.”

Ramirez, a member of several honor societies, has been president of Mesa Cooperativa, which serves as an umbrella for 14 Chicano/Latino organizations on campus. She advocates for causes that aim to aid the underrepresented, and she volunteers at shelters for battered women, abused children and victims of sex trafficking.

As a freshman, she was on CSUF’s award-winning debate team, and today, she is a UCLA law fellow.

“Of all the debaters we’ve had over the years, Eliza was the best one ever at putting her passion, her life experience and her commitment to her community in every single speech she gave,” said Jon C. Bruschke, professor of human communication studies and Ramirez’s debate coach.

During one particularly moving debate, Bruschke said, Ramirez “told a story about a day in high school when her dad came to pick her up, and she was so embarrassed by how shabby his car was that she pretended she didn’t know him. ... I’ve heard lots of academic arguments about identity and identity politics, but I’ve never heard anything that captured the issues with as much power and clarity. In the last debate of her career, she had all three judges, both her opponents and about 50 observers in tears.”

Ramirez credits her late grandmother Consuelo Hermosillo for fueling her fervor for social justice.

“She passed away a year ago, but I still remember her last words to me,” Ramirez tearfully recalled. “She said, ‘yo creo en ti, I believe
in you.’ ”

Hermosillo was a migrant farm worker who toiled in the fields and fought alongside César Chávez and the United Farm Workers Union for workers rights and fair treatment.

“She always told me that personal experience is the most important thing,” Ramirez said. “She was passionate about social justice issues, and she always wanted to open up centers to provide legal advice and resources for underrepresented low-income communities, but she never got to do that. That’s now something that I strive to do.”

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