Yuri Madenokoji came to San Francisco State University intent on moving forward with her life. For her, that meant confronting trauma. Madenokoji immersed herself in English literature and Women and Gender Studies to heal from sexual violence she had experienced. (She prefers to keep the details private.) Now, as a student in San Francisco State’s Graduate College of Education, she hopes to use what she learned to empower the next generation of scholars.
The California State University (CSU) recently recognized Madenokoji for rising above her traumatic experiences while achieving academic excellence and staying focused on social justice. She’s one of 23 CSU students to receive the CSU Trustee Award for Outstanding Achievement, the highest academic honor given annually by the CSU to students from each campus.
As a future educator, she wants to help young people unlearn oppressive thinking and behaviors. “After taking Women and Gender Studies courses, I began to understand the systemic nature of violence,” said Madenokoji. “Being an educator, I want to help students gain that analytical lens to navigate this complex world.”
San Francisco State Associate Professor of English Summer Star, a former professor of Madenokoji’s, says there couldn’t be a more deserving candidate for the award. Because of the flexibility it offers students, the CSU attracts people at different junctures in their lives and careers. “It’s a place for people who are self-starters and self-motivators,” she said. “Yuri is the poster child of self-motivation. The challenges she’s faced make her achievements and her tenacity all the more exceptional.”
Madenokoji wants to use education to uplift people, specifically marginalized groups. “She’s interested in teaching in a way that empowers students, no matter their background, and to instill a belief that they are a power for good. And that begins with feeling worthy,” Star added.
Growing up, Madenokoji says she didn’t know how to talk about difficult subjects like racism or sexism. She just didn’t have the language for it. But after studying feminist theory, she saw the world in a new way. She saw how marginalized people have been harmed by invisible systems, like white supremacy and sexism. It’s a revelation she’d like to share with her students.
People aren’t born racist or sexist, she says. These ideas are learned and internalized. “It’s our responsibility to undo the system of oppression. Otherwise we are complicit in it,” she said. “The first step in breaking out of the cycle of oppression is to put a name to it.”
She plans to use literature as a gateway for exploring some of these topics and for helping students understand what’s happening in the world right now, she says, whether it’s social, political or economic. “And then from there we can talk about what we can do in our own lives to work toward justice,” she said. “I want to be the kind of teacher who doesn’t just teach the current curriculum but also nurtures the heart and soul of students.”
— Jamie Oppenheim