The Charger Blog

Social Justice Advocate Encourages Students to be Part of ‘Something That Matters’

Kica Matos, who is passionate about protecting immigrant rights, democracy, and social justice, delivered a campus-wide lecture as part of the Bartels Lecture Series, the University’s longest running guest speaker series, and she encouraged students to be active and engaged citizens.

November 14, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Kica Matos
Kica Matos, director of the Center for Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice.

Laura Nolterieke ’20, a criminal justice major, is interested in how the law influences communities and its citizens. That’s why she was looking forward to meeting Kica Matos, director of the Center for Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, and hearing her talk about her work as a social justice advocate.

"I was very excited for this opportunity, and I’m grateful I got to talk with someone who has worked in the field of law and made such an important impact," said Nolterieke.

Matos has, for nearly 20 years, lived in a neighborhood in New Haven that is largely made up of immigrants. She was a leader in the effort to create the nation’s first identification card for all New Haven city residents, regardless of their immigration status. She is also active in the work of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, the nation’s largest network of immigrant rights organizations.

Image of Kica Matos, Kendra Nolan, Phil Bartels, and Steven H. Kaplan
Left to right: Kica Matos, Kendra Nolan ’20, Phil Bartels ’11 Hon., President Steven H. Kaplan.

Matos, who served as the director of immigration rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C. before joining the Vera Institute earlier this year, was moved by the efforts of engaged citizens. She is also inspired by the impact that movements and the actions of individuals have had throughout history.

As an example, Matos discussed the impact that civil rights activists, the Freedom Riders, had on integration, showing a short video about civil rights activist and leader Diane Nash.

"Historically, social justice movements have made the impossible possible," she said. "They have been credited with fixing injustices associated with oppression. It’s the voices of the people coming together that have prevailed, and they’ve made our nation more diverse and tolerant."

"The role of students and young people is absolutely critical."Kica Matos

Matos spoke on campus as part of the Bartels Lecture Series, the University’s longest-running guest speaker series. Established in 1989 through the support of devoted University benefactors Henry Bartels ’91 Hon. and Nancy Bartels ’11 Hon., the lecture series brings national and international leaders in business and public service to the University to interact with students.

Matos, who has worked with JUNTA for Progressive Action and served as deputy mayor and administrator of community services for the city of New Haven, has also worked as a federal defender for death-sentenced inmates and with the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education fund and with Amnesty International on death penalty and criminal justice issues. Her experiences continue to inspire her social justice advocacy.

Image of Kica Matos
Kica Matos delivered a campus-wide lecture as part of the University’s Bartels Lecture Series.

"I encourage you to be a part of something that’s bigger than you, something that matters," she said. "Commit yourself to changing the country for the better. The role of students and young people is absolutely critical."

After ending her lecture with a brief video that highlighted several impactful social justice movements, including women’s suffrage, civil rights, and marriage equality, Matos received a standing ovation. Her message inspired students, including Christina Genovese ’20.

"It was great for students to hear that we should not be afraid to fight for social justice," said Genovese, an English major. "As students, we have the power to fight, and to make a difference."