Beyond NYU: Empowering young women with L.O.V.E.

This video celebrates International Women’s Day by highlighting L.O.V.E founder Claudia Espinosa’s journey.

Jennifer Ren, Video Director

Espinosa: When you come from a different background, you have to assimilate into a new culture. So, if you think about the psychological development of an adolescent, all the other things that young people are facing, and you add this new process of acculturation and belonging, then it can feel really overwhelming. If you don’t have the right support and guidance, a lot of things can go wrong.

WSN: Claudia Espinosa moved to New York City from Cali, Colombia in 2000. Although having to adapt to a new culture and overcome many obstacles, she pulled it through. 

Espinosa: Currently, I am at NYU Steinhardt. I am getting my doctorate in education, and the goal is to graduate this May. Where I see myself is really using my talents, skills and passion to make a huge impact in terms of the education that youths receive, but particularly young women receive, in New York City. And I think that there are big gaps and there’s still a lot much more to do, and so I want to use this degree for that. 

WSN: Back in 2012, when Espinosa was still earning her master’s degree in public administration from NYU Wagner, she developed the nonprofit organization Latinas on the Verge of Excellence, L.O.V.E. Mentoring Program. From volunteering to receiving funding, L.O.V.E. has kept growing for the past 11 years to empower young immigrants, especially young women. 

Espinosa: We developed partnerships with public schools across NYC. We push into health education, and the goal there is to enhance the education that young women in particular receive in high schools, mostly related to mental health, reproductive health, college and career readiness. So, on a weekly basis, we go to our partner schools, we teach an hour-long class that our program coordinators support us with. But the main component is mentorship. We recruit female college students that go to our partner schools and help facilitate the classes. 

Suarez: My favorite thing about teaching, especially in the school, is just how smart the young girls are. I love having these intellectual conversations with them, talking with them about these complex issues and seeing like really what they kind of shift in my perspective too. I think it’s extremely powerful, and I think I also get to know different cultures while in like our backgrounds, how you know, where our culture affects how we view things. It really is such a diverse experience. 

WSN: Is there a specific person or incident that inspired you to do this? 

Espinosa: I worked for an organization many years ago, and the population I was supporting were young Latinas. They started a program because young Latinas in New York City have the highest suicide attempts. They moved here, maybe without families, without speaking the language. Thinking or feeling, “Am I going to be able to do this?” can make you think many things. It can lead you to depression, can lead you to feeling hopeless.

WSN: According to new CDC data released on Feb. 13, 2023, nearly three in five U.S. teenage girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, representing a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade.

WSN: Who is your role model, or who supported you when you felt really hopeless at that time? 

Espinosa: So I grew up in a supportive family. I had the fortune of getting a good education in Colombia, so I had that, I would say, those pillars that many of the young women that we support don’t have. And also being part of the same community, I felt that I wanted to do something to change that reality.

WSN: And there are also a lot of students of color, and especially women of color, who are kind of struggling and facing self-doubts in college, who want to be entrepreneurs like you. What is some advice that you want to give to them? 

Espinosa: Well first, to be extremely clear about what you want to do, because it is very important. So being very clear about what is that specific purpose, what makes your idea different? One thing I can tell you is that people have 10 seconds of attention, and if you’re not clear in what you want, you lost those 10 seconds. So I would say that to any woman, you know, from any background, it doesn’t matter — just be very clear about what you want. And then after you have determined what it is, go get it, because you can do it.

Contact Jennifer Ren at [email protected].