Editor’s note: Every year, The Herald Journal profiles one graduating student from each valley high school. Profiled students are selected by administrators at the schools.
This spring, Carina Linares had to adapt to not one but two schools moving classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Linares just finished up her senior year at InTech and her first year at Utah State University. She only had one class at InTech this spring and so did most of her schooling on USU’s campus through InTech’s early college program.
“Basically they all ended up closing at the same time so everything went online, and it was a completely new learning style that you had to adapt to,” Linares said.
Linares, a sociology major at USU, kept her footing well enough to earn a 100 percent grade in at least one of her classes, according to professor Marisela Martinez-Cola.
“That’s rare,” Martinez-Cola said of Linares’s perfect grade on all tests and assignments. “I don’t give those out.”
Both of Linares’s parents immigrated to the U.S. Her mother is from Ecuador, and her father is from Guatemala. Linares remembers traveling to Salt Lake City every Saturday and playing with her sister for hours at the immigration office as her parents spoke with attorneys to win her father’s citizenship.
She remembers “the waiting and going in front of the judge; the immense amount of stress (of) your life literally being decided by this one person.”
That sense of empathy helped lead her into sociology. Even though she’s a first-year student at USU, she’s already assisting with a study on how disabilities affect food inequality. The study’s just been approved, she said, so they’ll be sending out surveys to begin collecting data soon.
Martinez-Cola said Linares is “the kind of student that you, as a professor, are thrilled to have in your classroom.”
Linares took Martinez-Cola’s sociology of race and ethnicity course this semester. It’s material that juniors and seniors can struggle with, Martinez-Cola said, so it was good to see Linares thrive in class discussions.
“She always has really great questions,” Martinez-Cola said. “I would have them split into discussion groups and I walk around the class, and it was always really fun to walk by her group.”
After all USU courses moved to an online-only format, Linares didn’t skip a beat.
“Every single week, she just had such a really well-thought-out question for me to answer,” Martinez-Cola said.
For her part, Linares said she feels lucky to have had a laptop from InTech and WiFi at home — advantages probably not every student in Cache County enjoys.
“I know that there are a lot of kids in this valley who don’t have those resources,” Linares said. “So I think it’s really concerning when we look at how it’s impacting people’s grades, but also how it’s impacting their sense of schoolwork and their ability to adapt to how we are educating everybody in the county at this point.”
While online-only schooling has been a key component of nationwide efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, many educators and advocates share Linares’s worries that it’s making the playing field less even for families living in poverty. Even for households where two parents work full-time, that makes it hard to sit down with a student and make sure they do schoolwork instead of watch TV, USU professor Crescencio López-González told The Herald Journal in April.
Linares’s pursuit of a sociology degree has influenced the way she thinks about the viral pandemic beyond Cache Valley, as well.
“Within the deaths of the coronavirus, you’re seeing way more Latinos and African Americans dying from it,” Linares said.
American Public Media reports that black individuals account for 27% of known COVID-19 deaths, despite making up 13% of U.S. population. In Utah, Latinos make up 38% of confirmed COVID-19 cases even though they’re 14% of the population, according to the state health department.
Researchers are still working to understand why some ethnicities are hit harder than others, but many point to increased barriers to health care and higher rates of comorbidities, or pre-existing conditions that can complicate the disease’s symptoms.
Another factor that interests Linares is racism in medicine. Studies have shown health care providers are less likely to prescribe pain medication to black patients than to their white counterparts, for example.
“I actually find that really, really interesting,” Linares said. “And it’s brought up something that we really haven’t looked at as much before in the past.”
Wherever Linares’s interests take her, at least one professor is eager to continue working with her in the classroom and in research.
“I’m Latina, and it’s always really thrilling when as a first-gen woman of color when I’m able to teach another … young woman of color and see her just develop and rise,” Martinez-Cola said.