Paying forward what made the difference.
Charlie Morales ’13 got the call one night in September 2006—his admission appeal had gone through, his UC San Diego acceptance reinstated, and, as it was the last day of orientation, could he be down here tomorrow? From his family home in San Francisco Bay area, he said, “Yes, of course,” stuffed his belongings into three garbage bags and begged his brother to drive him down through the night. That morning, he was a Marshall College student.
He’d avoided the first instance that could have ended his time as a Triton, but Morales struggled his first year—in and out of academic probation, using every resource opportunity provided through OASIS, the Office of Academic Support & Instructional Services. He also joined the Latino-based fraternity Nu Alpha Kappa (NAK) for additional mentorship and support. Despite those efforts, he wrestled with grades and fitting in with his peers, so he finally took a leave of absence during his sophomore year and moved back to San Francisco. “I told my counselor that I would come back and graduate from UCSD,” he says. “They expressed surprise when I actually did.”
But his time at home had come with its own difficulties. Two of his brothers were shot in an attempted house robbery, and Morales was in a motorcycle accident, requiring ankle surgery that limited his ability to walk. Morales returned no better off than he was before, but he began to realize the many resources available to help with the trauma and heavy emotions he had endured throughout his upbringing.
His advisor at OASIS recommended counseling, so Morales went to CAPS—Counseling and Psychological Services for students. “I was hesitant at first due to my ego. It took a while for me to realize it was therapeutic, which eventually equipped me with the tools to deal with issues of self-esteem and trauma,” he says. “It was consistent reinforcement from my fraternity, from OASIS and CAPS and my mentors, Wayne Yang and Willie Brown—that’s what made all the difference in my life.”
Willie Brown was a biology professor who taught the college success course Methods of Inquiry. “Professor Brown taught me the fundamentals,” says Morales, “note-taking, the importance of going to office hours, but beyond that, he helped me rebuild my self-esteem. He helped me take myself more seriously and practice self-care.”
Wayne Yang, then a professor of ethnic studies and now provost of Muir College, had a similar influence on Morales, though tied more to his academic discipline: “My ethnic studies advisor, Yolanda Escamilla, encouraged me to meet with Wayne, and between them both, they listened to what I had to say; they demonstrated that they cared and helped me see ethnic studies as a way to heal from all that I was going through, to find my purpose inside those classes. I began to see society from a different lens—it was a pivotal point in the way I thought about the world.”
Over the years after graduation, Morales kept in touch with Yang. “I was working a few jobs,” Morales says, “kind of lost, honestly, when Wayne invited me to an ethnic studies conference and planted the seed by recommending me to work with youth. I was reluctant at first, but I eventually came around to the idea.”
Eventually, Morales started working in his old high school district in the Bay Area, coaching and substitute teaching, then took the next step toward an advanced degree in educational counseling at USC, graduating this past August. Morales is now a counselor at San Jose City College, where he also teaches a college and life success class—“I teach them the fundamentals, pretty much everything Willie Brown taught me,” he says.
He also serves as a coordinator for Skyline College’s Herman@s Connection to College program, a Latinx empowerment program that brings college classes to high schools. And once a week Morales speaks to youth in juvenile detention centers, hoping to turn around the lives of those who are dealing with the systematic obstacles and social toxins that he once faced.
“I’m honored to do this work,” Morales says. “I see it as a social responsibility because I know how much one can benefit from having support from adults who care. I’ve been there, and I know what just a little support and guidance can do in transforming people’s lives. It changed mine profoundly, and I work relentlessly to be that same catalyst in someone else’s life.” As that support passes on, it’s just one way in which everything that may have been for Morales turns into what could be for others.