Meet a Digital Humanist

September 5, 2018

Raven Gomez grew up gaming. Now she wants to get video games and other technology into the classroom.

Last spring, as a Smith College senior, Raven Gomez teamed up with friends to create a video game that depicted the mental health challenges they faced as first-generation college students. Designing the game, which was selected for an exhibition at the Smith College Museum of Art, was a revelatory experience for Gomez.

Now a student in The Graduate Center’s digital humanities master’s program, she is convinced that technology empowers students, and she is determined to bring its benefits to nontraditional students like her.

Gomez, whose parents hail from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, grew up in the Bronx. She was a strong student until her health took a nosedive. Suffering from a medical condition that wasn’t diagnosed until she was 23, she spent so much time at doctor’s appointments that she had to drop out of school.

With her parents working, she tried to school herself, but, she says, “I didn’t get past the ninth grade on my own. I couldn’t wait for the day I turned 18, and I could drop out.” Cut out of typical social experiences, she found solace in video games, especially narrative ones like Beyond Good and Evil, which offered a creative outlet and community.

At 18, with just one week to study, she took and barely passed the GED. With her score, her hopes of attending a four-year college were dashed. So she resolved to commute 2.5 hours each way to CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College.

The seeming setback changed her life. “My experience at LaGuardia meant so much to me and really was the foundation for my education after that,” she says.

Encouraged by one of her professors, she joined LaGuardia’s Honors Program and earned a scholarship to Smith.

“Academically, Smith is everything you could hope for, but coming from LaGuardia, it was a big culture shock,” Gomez says. She remembers thinking, “I don’t see anyone who looks like me or understands where I’m coming from.”

But Smith College exposed her to the field of game studies and to the concept of incorporating games and technology into learning. In her last year, she managed the college’s video game research lab. “They had to drag me out of there,” she recalls. “That was definitely the best job I’ve had and the most creative, independent job.”

The experience motivated her to apply to The Graduate Center’s digital humanities master’s program. She felt even more assured after learning that Professor Stephen Brier (Urban Education), whom she knows for his research on race, class, ethnicity, and digital technology in public education, was involved in the program. “That … signaled to me that this was the kind of community that I wanted to grow with,” she says.

An internship this past summer as a research assistant at Cuyahoga Community College deepened her commitment to working with community college students. And she already has her eye on a Ph.D. “I definitely think one of the first things I told my mom when I started LaGuardia when I was 18 was, ‘I think academia is going to be my life.’”