More Than Her Circumstances

From Juvenile Hall to Journalism School: Dani Anguiano Beats the Odds

People can be more than their circumstances. That’s the conclusion Dani Anguiano reached when she found herself riding in the back of a police car on her way to a juvenile delinquency center at age 15.

Now, the Associated Students commissioner of multicultural affairs is finishing up work in her last semester as an undergraduate at CSU, Chico. She has been accepted to Northwestern University for graduate school and is making plans for life after Chico.

But getting to this point wasn’t easy. 

Originally from Sacramento, Anguiano grew up with an older brother and sister and two younger brothers. When she was 15, her 23-year-old brother Michael Anguiano died of a drug overdose. Shortly after his death, Anguiano began drinking. “Because I was so young, I didn’t have the emotional capability to deal with losing someone,” she says.

From there, things became worse for the Anguianos. Police officers arrived at their home to arrest Anguiano’s parents. She knew that her father was dealing drugs, so she hid his illicit stash in her room—leading to her own arrest.

“It was terrifying mostly because I didn’t understand that it could happen to me,” she says. She spent five days in juvenile detention, sharing a room with an underage prostitute. She quickly realized that she didn’t belong there. So did her teachers, who were impressed with her intelligence.

Anguiano works with a student in the Student Learning Center.

Anguiano works with a student in the Student Learning Center.

“I had watched my parents sort of make those decisions, and ride away in police cars,” she says.

Anguiano moved to Chico to live with her aunt, who became her legal guardian while her parents were in prison. There, Anguiano found the stable environment she needed to thrive. She attended Chico High School and took classes at Butte College her senior year through the Educational Opportunity Program. 

At CSU, Chico, she has blossomed academically and leapt at every opportunity to be involved. Now she plans the campus’ international and multicultural festivals, and sits on various councils and scholarship committees to advocate for diversity.

She has also served as a writing tutor at the Student Learning Center, a columnist for The Orion, a volunteer at the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center, and an academic mentor in REACH (Raising Educational Achievement Through Collaborative Hubs), a program for first-generation college students.

In a few weeks, she will graduate with a degree in social sciences with the hope that her background will help her be empathetic toward others.

Anguiano’s father, David Anguiano, also came to a realization while incarcerated: He didn’t want to risk any more time away from his children. Seeing his daughter being put into the back of a police car was heartbreaking. He came to realize he’d been depressed since his son’s overdose, and being locked up helped him face his son’s death head on. “I was numb, and her being taken away added to that numbness,” he says.

After his release, David Anguiano worked to turn his life around. In fall 2013, he returned to Chico State to finish a degree he worked on until 1982, and will graduate with his daughter in the coming weeks with a bachelor’s in social sciences.

Last semester, he had a higher GPA than her—a 3.9. “I'm not on the FBI's list now; I'm on the Dean's List,” he says.

David Anguiano believes he’s done so well because of his daughter’s support, and she has also been inspired by her dad. “It honestly just made my graduation a little more meaningful,” she said.

After walking across the stage she will begin another journey—graduate school at Northwestern school of journalism. She wants to explore the avenues of social justice within journalism, fueled by the belief that a person’s circumstances don’t have to define them.

“I grew up feeling kind of helpless about my parents’ situation. Really seeing them struggle instilled this sort of empathy," she says.

"If you had asked a random person [before] if I could have gotten into Columbia, they would have said no, and I did."

—Quinn Western, Public Affairs and Publications

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