The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Professor shares how race’s role affected him

By Jason Middlebrooks/ reporter

SE history professor J. Joel Tovanche spoke Sept. 22 on SE Campus about several times in his life when people made assumptions about him based on the color of his skin. The Collegian file photo
SE history professor J. Joel Tovanche spoke Sept. 22 on SE Campus about several times in his life when people made assumptions about him based on the color of his skin.
The Collegian file photo

Every day, students take for granted opportunities they have, and many don’t recognize them, a SE history associate professor said Sept. 22.

This situation upsets J. Joel Tovanche, who shared his untold story on overcoming prejudice and adversity as a Mexican immigrant. His story not only gave insight of life as an immigrant growing up in Ohio but also relates to students who lack the confidence to become the best students they can be.

“I understand that struggle,” he said. “So many obstacles were of my own making. I was never really into school.”

Tovanche said he was only given two rules when it came to school: go to school and listen to whatever the teacher says. His parents couldn’t help him due to busy work schedules. Despite having a natural enjoyment of reading, he said he had little interest in school.

“[I’d] rather be out with friends,” he said.

His older brother had other plans for him.

“I didn’t care what classes I had [in high school],” he said. “I was just happy to be in school. I was fine with making birdhouses in wood shop.”

Because of his ethnicity, the vice principal had assigned him classes anybody could pass: wood shop, metal shop, basic math and history. Tovanche was seen with low expectations.

“Those are the worst to have,” he said. “There is a kind of automatic assumption of you.”

His brother wanted something better for his little brother. He changed Tovanche’s schedule dramatically by giving him a list of college prep courses to take in place of the previous classes given to him.

“My brother said, ‘No, you go back to him [the vice principal] and ask for these classes and do not leave until you get them,’” Tovanche said.

He credits his brother for encouraging him to focus on his education in high school. Tovanche said his brother would find him spending time with his friends when he had work to do and would drag him back to their home.

Despite the encouragement of his brother and the memories of seeing his mother’s burn scars from the factory where she worked, Tovanche still had low expectations for himself.

“After high school, I worked at a grocery store. I had a union job. I had benefits. I felt complacent.”

He was 23 when he decided go to school. He was 30 when he decided he really needed to do something to achieve a better life and got serious about his education.

“I did not want to be the brown kid that everybody wonders how he got there,” he said.

Today, Tovanche holds a degree in history, along with two law degrees.

“I realized I have been very, very lucky having the support system that I had,” he said.

Tovanche said his experiences shaped his teaching style and his expectations of his students. He believes students can be successful if they learn how to communicate their thoughts and expect more from themselves, along with having a sense of humor at the end of the day.

Tovanche credits memories of his mother for keeping him going and not giving up numerous times.

He remembers his mother coming home with those burn scars telling him, “I do not want this for you.”

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