Community Engagement in Uvalde: A Student Perspective

Jasmine Wright (Plan II / Latin American Studies) recently traveled to Uvalde, Texas, to create an asset map for the South Texas community. The asset mapping work is led by IC2 Institute Deputy Director Greg Pogue, and is part of a larger initiative spearheaded by Monica M. Martinez (Liberal Arts) and Noel Busch Armendariz (Social Work) to help Uvalde develop resilience and a positive path forward in the wake of last year’s school shooting. We caught up with Jasmine before she boarded a plane to Puerto Rico to conduct research for her senior thesis. Jasmine’s experience in Uvalde was profoundly moving—we are honored to share her perspective.


For the uninitiated, can you describe the process of “asset mapping”?

We’re brainstorming with the people in a community. Looking at the geography, looking at the demographics, looking at the education level, looking at the basic kind of foundations of whatever structure that exists. We evaluate what’s there, we look at where new economic initiatives could be built, and see how we can maximize the assets without demolishing the resources. So, I kind of like to say that we’re creative problem solvers.


Can you tell us about the meetings you had?  

We met with people who are the main influencers in the city. So, for example, we met with the county judge, and we got a chance to ask questions about his perspective. And we met with the president of the Junior College, and we met local artists that were really pivotal in making the murals after Robb. Just meeting everyone from all the way up to the top, all the way to the bottom and just sort of having conversations and relationship building.


What were some of the questions you posed to people?

The main questions were, “What is working in Uvalde?”  “What isn’t working?” And “if you had a magic wand, what are the things that you would immediately request today, in order to fix a really big problem for Uvalde?”


I’m sure you had some trepidations about visiting Uvalde in the wake of such a horrific tragedy.

Yeah, definitely.


Can you describe the experience once you arrived there?

The impact of the tragedy is so much more present than anyone could ever imagine. Uvalde is a living reminder of everything that happened on May 24. There are murals of the people who passed away. And they are of children—nine, ten, eleven years old. And in the main square there is a circle of 21 crosses for every single victim. And it’s not just crosses. It’s items that were their favorite things in life. It’s so surreal …


When you asked residents, “What’s not working?” – was there a common thread to the responses?

I would say that what I heard most often for housing opportunities and quality of life. I don’t think anyone denies that it’s a cool place to live—and there are some benefits of living there—but because of how expensive it is to buy a house. How isolated it is from San Antonio. There’s no mall, there’s no glitz and glamour of the city, it’s just a town where you seem to pass by it. … The phrase they like to use is, you know, ”Uvalde’s never had a boom, and it’s never had a bust.” And so, I think, a lack of attention has been paid to purposeful growth. And also, maybe, hyper attention on all of the wrong things that really set up Uvalde to be in a really sticky situation where they feel trapped.


What do Uvalde residents see as assets?

Definitely the people. People in high positions of influence in Uvalde have gone to San Antonio, they’ve gone to Austin, they’ve gone all around … but they still come back to Uvalde and that’s where they’ve settled. For different reasons they say they’ve come back there, but I honestly think it’s the people. There’s something about being there—that even if you are on the edge and you feel unsettled, there’s still hope there for good. You feel it.


It sounds as if the trip was challenging to you on many levels. Did you develop a new skill set?

Yeah, for sure. There is nothing more important than trying to be in the experience. Because you know, prior to going I was spending weeks looking things up online, comparing statistics and data. So many Excel spreadsheets. But that doesn’t match to what it’s like being there. It completely heightens the experience and makes you more empathetic than you ever were behind just a laptop. It makes you want to fight for something.


What comes next—is there a Part 2 of this work?

I sure hope so. I want to continue processing, maybe conducting more interviews, doing a lot of relationship building and talking things out, going to the drawing board, and thinking of suggestions to present to city leaders.


Is there anything else that you would want a reader to know about your experience in Uvalde?

I was having a conversation with someone and they described living in Uvalde is like being in the dark, but you can still see the stars. And it was such a moving phrase for me to hear from the Uvalde resident … and it clicked for me in that moment, where I was like, “Okay, this is what I want to do.” Because, I mean, going to Uvalde is uncomfortable. It’s a hard thing to do … You don’t want to get up close and personal. You don’t want to see all of the cracks. … But the people there—they don’t have a choice.

Coming from Houston, things happen every single day that I don’t know about. But In a community of 15,000 people, when something like that happens, you can’t just ignore that. And to live in that, and to go every day and wake up living like that, is a traumatic experience in and of itself. So it makes you sympathize … If you’re big enough to face it, to look at it head-on, I think that’s one of the most important things that you can do. … The discomfort is worth it. That means you’re doing something right.