By Joseph Rios
Diana Freyta’s family roots run generations deep on the Auraria Campus. Now, those ties can continue to grow, thanks to the expansion of the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship. The program has provided free college tuition for the children and grandchildren of those displaced from their homes when the campus was built more than five decades ago. The new expansion ensures that all direct descendants of the people who were displaced are eligible for the scholarship.
In the 1940s, Freyta’s great-grandparents Maria Lucy and Anselmo Gallegos raised their 12 children in a four-bedroom house in the largely Hispanic Auraria neighborhood. Freyta’s grandmother Maria Delores and grandfather Charles Freyta were married at St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church on the Auraria Campus in the 1960s. But shortly after, Lucy and Gallegos were among hundreds forced to leave one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods to make way for the new campus.
“My grandmother was sad because they had their friends and their network of people, and everyone kind of got separated,” Freyta said. She is pursuing an Organizational Communications degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver, which shares the Auraria Campus with the University of Colorado Denver and Community College of Denver.
During summer 1965, a flood devastated the Auraria neighborhood, and the damage motivated city and state leaders to move forward with urban-renewal plans that displaced more than 300 households. Residents were compensated for their homes and promised tuition-free education at campus higher-education institutions for themselves and their children and grandchildren.
Freyta used the scholarship to earn her associate degree in Business from Community College of Denver. She is now using it to obtain her bachelor’s degree at MSU Denver.
“It was one of the foundations that helped me get through college, and I think it’s important to expand the scholarship beyond to other generations,” said Freyta, whose mother and other family members also took advantage of the program to attend college on the Auraria Campus.
Freyta and others have been advocating to expand eligibility for the scholarship beyond the children and grandchildren of displaced Aurarians, and they will soon be getting their wish. Beginning with the spring semester, all lineal descendants of people who lived in the Auraria neighborhood from 1955 to 1973 will be eligible. The expansion will also allow the scholarship to be used for undergraduate or graduate programs.
“MSU Denver has proudly served multiple generations of Auraria families, and I am thrilled that we will continue to honor their legacy and this community by offering access to a high-quality, enriching education,” said University President Janine Davidson, Ph.D. “It is vital to our University mission to recognize those who came before and to set an ambitious course for assuring that all descendants of the Aurarian community have access to education, also reaffirming our ongoing commitment to equity and restorative justice at all levels of the University.”
Since 1995, MSU Denver has supported 305 students through the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship, collectively saving them over $3 million as of last spring.
“It really is an amazing opportunity just because we know that getting a degree changes an individual’s life as well as a family’s life,” said Thomas Hernandez, interim executive director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at MSU Denver. “But it’s often not just one generation that we see has to be successful in education to really move the needle for families. I think it’s really important that we’re expanding this.”
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