By Tara de Souza
Kimberly Vasquez ’25 is quick to credit her experience with SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society) and its members and mentors, as well as collaborations with organizations across the city, for her emergence as a leading voice in the debate over the digital divide. Vasquez, highlighted in national media for her work, says her peers’ and mentors’ tireless contributions helped shine a spotlight on the causes and bring change in Baltimore.
In 2020, while Vasquez was a junior at Baltimore City College high school, the pandemic forced schools and students to move to virtual learning. That transition was a turning point for Vasquez, who had difficulty accessing remote learning from home.
“I wondered how I was supposed to succeed,” she says.
Vasquez turned to SOMOS, the student group run by Franca Muller Paz ’10, and quickly realized that students across the city couldn’t access their virtual classes because of a lack of resources, devices, and hot spots. The lack of digital equity was exacerbated by the pandemic.
Her peers at SOMOS helped organize protests with the Baltimore Teachers Union to highlight student voices in the fight and demand that the city’s internet provider, Comcast, increase speeds and offer plans accessible to low-income families.
Working with Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen ’08, Vasquez and other SOMOS members spoke to the city council, which resulted in the allocation of $3 million toward Baltimore City Schools for devices. Through that collaboration, the idea of creating a “DigiCorp” in Baltimore, where people could learn how to use the internet and gain access to community resources, was also discussed.
In spring 2021, Vasquez spoke to Vice President Kamala Harris during a virtual panel and presented this idea as a national model to help address the digital divide. “It was a big opportunity,” she says. “I was lucky enough to present it to her. It was a collaboration among many groups.”
Now, Vasquez is working with Cohen, the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition, and other advocates to create a DigiCorp with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
“We have been labeled as activists, but I didn’t choose the digital divide,” she says. “I was either going to do something about not going to class or not.”
She views her involvement with these causes from a holistic point of view. Vasquez, who was honored by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott with the 2021 Mayor’s Hispanic Heritage Award – Emerging Leader, says being honored is not just about her work but also a recognition for SOMOS and the power that youth hold.
In fall 2021, Vasquez found her way to Goucher through the active community of Baltimore-area alumnae/i who work in and around the city. She wanted to stay near the city, as she felt her advocacy work there was not done.
“At first, I had no idea about where I wanted to go [to college] because I am a first-generation student,” she says. “Franca Muller Paz introduced me to Goucher. I loved the way she taught, and I learned a lot from her. She talked about how much she learned at Goucher.”
At Goucher, along with adjusting to being a first-year college student, Vasquez is also working toward connecting students who are first-gen, immigrants, adopted, and more as the co-president of the NOMAD student organization. She says her work has driven her to consider public service and political science as top contenders for her major.
Says Vasquez, “I am excited about what is next for me at Goucher.”