Honors welcomes Ariana Cantu

by Christina Wardwell

September 29, 2021

Honors welcomes Ariana Cantu

by Christina Wardwell ’23

The University of Washington Honors Program is delighted to introduce our new Curriculum and Community Scholar, Ariana Cantu, a popular lecturer in the School of Social Work. This honorary appointment provides opportunities for faculty to create groundbreaking interdisciplinary coursework incorporating field work outside of the walls of the UW. Ariana is the second recipient of this new award.

Influenced by her Latinx heritage and Catholic upbringing, Ariana grounds her professional goals in deep community engagement. After college, she discovered social work as a vocation when a friend invited her to volunteer at a houseless shelter in downtown Seattle. Noticing that many people in the shelter looked like her, she felt the spark that has kindled her 25-year career helping people gain access to housing and other basic needs. 

Ariana will use the award to lead a spring Honors seminar about gentrification and the housing crisis in the greater Seattle area, examining displacement through the lenses of social justice, inclusion and equity. The Honors Curriculum and Community Innovation Scholar award also provides funds that go directly towards grassroots organizations that are involved with her upcoming class. Ariana says these community funds provide “an important opportunity to pay back these organizations for their critical educational expertise and help them to provide necessary services that promote mutual healing through engagement.”

By listening to houseless citizens and neighborhood organizations that support them, students can discover their own best ways to promote equity and justice. “Students go to school to build skills that they can use well in a community, in whatever field they choose,” she explains. “If they can’t practice while at an institution, that’s a missed opportunity. I want students to go out prepared to engage fully, wholeheartedly and with equity and inclusion at the center of their approach.”

Selfie from her kayak on Lake Easton
Summer selfie from her kayak on Lake Easton

Ariana and her wife, Mackenzie Waller who is a lecturer in the College of Built Environments, created a class on the causes and impacts of gentrification in Seattle. “Community Inclusion and Equity in the Changing Public Realm” is the basis for her spring 2022 Honors seminar. Using intersectional social justice as a lens, students will investigate the forces behind and impacts of unaffordable housing on local communities. Teaming up with peers from different disciplines will allow students to draw from several perspectives as they create digital documentation of neighborhoods that are undergoing intense development and gentrification. 

Ariana hopes that students will gain a more holistic understanding of the social change that is happening in their local area and the role they can play as community members and scholars. Students enrolled in Social Work or Built Environment programs have enjoyed this class, but there is a need for people from every background to understand and participate in this work. She can’t wait to bring students from different disciplines together to work on big issues as a collective. Ariana considers Honors an interdisciplinary hub and is excited to work with a team of instructors across the UW who bring their own lens and skill set to education. 

Ariana Cantu out in the World

Beyond her role as an educator and activist, Ariana is currently working on a queer YA fiction novel. Along with writing, she enjoys kayaking, hiking, cross country skiing and playing with her two dogs. She does this to relax, but also to stay rooted in her purpose, saying: “As social justice proponents, it is so crucial to be connected to the earth and natural environment around us as a form of healing and rejuvenation.”

Stay tuned for opportunities to meet with and learn from Ariana this year!

Christina Wardwell is a student news contributor for the Honors Program. She is a junior studying history and likes to go on runs around Green Lake.