An Interview with Karly Zrake, First Recipient of the Santos Rodriguez Fellowship

KarlyZrakeKarly Zrake, a current second-year student double majoring in Human Rights and Anthropology, has been involved in her community since a young age and continues to be highly involved at SMU. She is a Dedman College Scholar, a member of the UHP, a member of Alpha Chi Omega (where she has been elected to the 2016 Executive Board), and a Peer Dialogue Leader for Virginia-Snider Commons. Based on her passion for the activities she participates in, it is clear that she is dedicated to her beliefs—and that she is very deserving of the Santos Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship.

Santos Rodriguez was 12 years old in 1973 when the police came to his Dallas home, handcuffed him, and placed him, along with his 13-year-old brother, in a squad car for questioning. The brothers were suspects in a vending machine burglary of less than $10, and in order to get information from the boys one of the officers played Russian roulette with Santos, supposedly thinking that he had emptied his gun of all bullets. He had not, and Santos was shot and killed. He was proven innocent of the burglary charges and the officer served only part of a 5-year sentence. The incident sparked riots and galvanized members of Dallas’s Latino community to fight for their civil rights.

Karly Zrake sat down with me to reflect on the fellowship and the civil rights issues that we continue to face today.

How do you feel as the first person to be honored with this scholarship?

I feel absolutely honored and blessed to be the first person to receive the Santos Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship. I know there were many qualified applicants, and I feel so grateful to have been selected and, most importantly, to have the opportunity to spread Santos’s story.

What do you hope to accomplish through your Human Rights major?

Ever since I was in kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to serve others. I sought to promote equality and understanding, and to be a voice for those who did not have one. As I have progressed in my education, I have realized that I want to educate others and help create a new generation of human rights advocates, and I know that my Human Rights major will provide me the skills to do just that.

How do you hope to further the cause/mission of the scholarship?

A large reason for the scholarship is to raise awareness about Santos Rodriguez and memorialize his name and story. I hope to further this cause by educating the public about the horrific injustice that ended his life and altered his family’s life forever. I think it is important to raise awareness in our generation especially. Because Santos was murdered in 1973, many people our age do not know his story, despite the fact that it happened right here in Dallas.

Do you feel you have witnessed any changes in the way people were treated then compared to now?

Unfortunately, Santos’s situation is presenting itself again in the tense race relations in our country. I truly believe that the past repeats itself, just in different forms and with different oppressors and oppressed, and that to permanently stop these injustices, we need to recognize the past and learn from our mistakes.

What do you hope is something we can all take away from incidents like these?

Incidents like these occur all too often and the fact that they continue to present themselves undermines the lives of the victims. I think it is important to realize that racial inequality is still prevalent in our society and that racially motivated injustices do happen, and are still happening. I truly hope that in the near future, people will begin to treat their fellow humans as people and not as some sort of foreign beings. Diversity is honestly a beautiful thing, and if we could respect that in one another, we would become so much more worldly and well-rounded, and the world would be a much more peaceful place.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Santos Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship was established to celebrate the life of Santos Rodriguez by providing other young people with an opportunity that he never received—the opportunity for a college education. SMU was chosen as the school to receive this scholarship because it is one of the seven institutions in the nation to offer an undergraduate degree in Human Rights. Hilltopics congratulates Karly on her accomplishments and on her newest honor. 

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