Born and raised in South L.A., alumna and adjunct professor La Mikia Castillo strives to make a difference in communities in need by focusing on public policy and urban planning.
“I grew up in a low-income community,” Castillo said. “It wasn’t until that I got to college when I realized that my community didn’t have access to the same resources as other communities.”
Castillo received her bachelor’s degree from UC San Diego, where she said she noticed a stark contrast in access to resources among her peers.
“When I began to see the disparities between what I had access to and what my friends from home had access to versus my peers in college, I realized that there was something wrong there and I wanted to change it,” she said.
In college, Castillo learned that communities looked the way they do due to policies implemented by policymakers and urban planners, who decide which areas certain populations will be placed in.
“I became a community organizer because I really wanted to work on organizing community members to learn what I had learned in college and use that information to change the community, to actually advocate for policies that would be positive for us,” Castillo said.
As a graduate student at the Price School of Public Policy, Castillo founded the Black Student Association at Price after noticing that there was a need for black students to speak about issues that impact the black community. In addition, she was a board member of the Latino Student Association at Price.
“[These groups] were very meaningful for me because as a person who identifies as black and Latina, sometimes it’s hard to find the space where I feel like I fit in, where I can be my whole self,” Castillo said. “I’ve always been involved in black student organizations and Latinx student organizations and then act as a bridge between them because I think that issues our communities face are so similar, that it makes sense for us to overlap and work together to address them through policy and planning,”
Castillo recently worked as a national director at the National Foster Institute, where she worked on local, state and federal child welfare policies. She also helped empower foster youth by helping them understand how policy is created.
“I would bring foster youth from across the country to Washington D.C. to meet with their Congress members,” Castillo said. “They would shadow them to learn about how Congress works, and they would then tell their own personal stories about what their experiences were like in the foster care system … They would also make recommendations for how they can address those challenges through policy.”
Currently, Castillo teaches both of Price’s undergraduate social innovation and graduate social context courses at Price. In both classes, Castillo allows students to work together to solve challenges through social innovations and hands-on activities.
“I know that there’s so much for [students] to contribute to the class, so if you would like to lead a session in the class, I want you to take the lead on that,” Castillo said. “I absolutely love when students take that opportunity to lead, and I think it helps them feel empowered that you have something to bring and something to offer, and your peers can learn from you as well.”
This story is part of a mini-series highlighting Latinos at USC. It ran every week during Hispanic Heritage Month, which ended Oct. 15.