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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Denver universities, community college expand scholarships for displaced Aurarians

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The Auraria Campus in downtown Denver is home to several historic landmarks, one of which is St. Cajetan. The Spanish Colonial-style church was built in 1925 and was the first Hispanic parish in Denver. The church is now used as a multi-purpose event center. But during its heyday, Saint Cajetan was an integral part of the Diana Fritta family.

“My grandmother, my grandmother, used to run like cleaning the church and feeding everyone in the church,” Frita said.

In the 1940s, Frita’s grandparents, Maria Lucy and Anselmo Gallegos, lived two blocks from the church in Auraria, Denver’s oldest neighborhood. They raised 12 children in a two-story double apartment.

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They went to Saint Cajetan’s School and went to church here,” said Frita.

Two decades later, her grandmother, Maria Delores Fritta, married in Sainte-Cajetan.

At the time, Auraria was primarily home to working-class Native American, Hispanic, and Italian families. During the summer of 1965, a neighborhood flood devastated the damage and prompted city and state leaders to act.

“Urban renewal was in the atmosphere a lot in those days. And in a number of cities, it was kind of like clearing areas and then building again,” said Stephen Leonard, a professor of history at Metropolitan State University in Denver. People, in a number of institutions, are about finding a campus that can serve them all.”

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Much of the neighborhood was demolished to make way for the new 150-acre Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC). The campus includes Denver Community College, University of Colorado Denver, and MSU Denver. Businesses and hundreds of families, like Frita, were forced to leave in the name of urban redevelopment.

“I think it’s painful for anyone to move,” Frita said. “Their whole lives were really built on this land.”

The families were compensated for their homes and promised free education at any of the three institutions. The Displaced Aurarian Scholarship was created for residents who lived there from 1955 to 1973 and their descendants.

“I think the city really wants to honor and appreciate those families who have given up their homes,” said Thomas Hernandez, interim executive director of financial aid and scholarships at Michigan State University Denver. “We must give you and your children the opportunity to be able to come here and continue your education.”

While the scholarship has been in design for decades, it was first awarded in the early 1990s. Hernandez said the schools are finally making good on their promise after displaced families have stood up for themselves.

“It was community and family involvement that said, ‘We know we got the promise of that. “And I went and found documents and went to the foundation to say, How can we really access this funding?” he continued.

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Through the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship, the three institutions have collectively awarded more than $5.5 million in financial aid.

Since 1995, MSU Denver has awarded 305 scholarships. Diana Fretta is one of those recipients. She has a business degree from CCD and is currently a student at MSU Denver majoring in Organizational Communication. You will graduate in May.

Altogether, it’s seven years. “I used to go to school part-time because I work full-time,” she said. “But during that time, I’ve grown as a professional and as a student, and it’s been really great to have bigger and better opportunities with the education.”

Diana Frita (seated, bottom row, right), son Frita (seated, bottom row, second from right), Frita’s grandmother, Maria Delores Gallegos Frita (seated, center), and relatives pose for a photo outside a house on Ninth Street Historic Park in Auraria Sanctuary. They are eligible for the Aurarian Homeless Scholarship.

Originally, the scholarship was only applicable to three generations of grandchildren who were pursuing associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. It also only covered tuition and fees for eight semesters. This means that my son Fritta was not eligible for the scholarship. This bothered her so much that she discussed it in the debate class.

“I chose it as a topic for discussion because I wanted my kids to get the experience, and get a free education here at college,” she said.

Turns out Fritta had the right idea.

This fall, the three institutions announced that the scholarship is expanding. As of the following semester, all grandchildren are eligible, funds can be used for graduate programs and there is no maximum number of classes students can attend.

“Education is powerful and a path to social progress. But the truth is that it only takes one generation to move a family to a new social status,” Hernandez said.

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This is especially true of Michigan State University of Denver students, more than half of whom are first-generation college students, he said. They are also a bit older, most work while in school, and tend to stay in the metro area after graduation.

“Really,” he said, “the more generations we can contribute to this educational process.” “The more we know our community will be stronger.”

Ninth Street Historic Park is another landmark on the Auraria campus. Green lawn runs along the block and Victorian-style homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are on either side. It was preserved when the campus was built.

“My grandmother would walk on this and play on the sidewalk,” Frita said. “did not change.”

While her family’s homes are long gone, she still feels the presence of her Native American ancestors when she walks in the park.

“There is such a kind of connection when I come here, as if you almost feel the connection of spirits,” she said. “I don’t know if our belief system or our birth is here. You feel like you belong here.”

Many of Fritta’s relatives received the scholarship and with the expansion, she is already looking to the future: a master’s degree for herself and a free college education for her and their children.

“This scholarship will help all of our generations move forward. It is truly amazing.”

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