Putting Equity in Justice


If you’re looking for evidence about how the Grossmont College Justice Scholars program is transforming lives, look no further than Colleen Murphy.


Murphy is a 34-year-old single mother who once struggled with depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, incarceration, and homelessness. With the support of the Justice Scholars program, she graduated in June with three associate degrees and will be transferring to UC San Diego in this fall.


“Grossmont Justice Scholars became my home,” she said. “It provided me with holistic support and made navigating the tremendous challenges associated with being a system-impacted student possible.”


Designed to support the formerly incarcerated on their academic and personal journey at Grossmont College and beyond, the Justice Scholars program was founded in the spring of 2020 and serves some two dozen students with mentoring and peer support, college application assistance, financial aid, educational planning and guidance, advocacy, connections to a variety of community resources, and more.


Three students graduated within the program’s first year. Murphy was among them.


“Our students have been invisible on our campus for so long and I am grateful our college has committed to providing a safe space for our students to be visible, to be welcomed and be a valuable part of our campus and highlight our amazing students,” said counselor and Justice Scholars coordinator Yohany Corona-Batalona.


Murphy and others say Corona-Batalona is key in the program’s success.


“Yohany is phenomenal,” Murphy said. “She is committed to the success of her students and goes above and beyond to ensure that they are given every possible opportunity to not only succeed but thrive.”

Murphy’s journey took several turns before she settled into the scholar she is today. Born in Palm Springs and raised in the San Bernardino County town of Joshua Tree, Murphy first enrolled at Grossmont College after graduating from Yucca Valley High School in 2005. Navigating the transition to college and away from her support system proved to be extremely challenging. She began struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety and ended up withdrawing from school after her first semester.


Over the course of the next 15 years, she grappled with misdiagnosed mental health issues, substance use disorder, long-term unemployment and eventually incarceration.


In 2018, she became homeless after leaving an extremely violent relationship and shortly after realized she was pregnant with her first child.


“I knew that the lifestyle I was living was no longer sustainable and made the decision to leave rather than continue the cycle of violence. Finding out I was pregnant solidified in my mind that I had made the right decision.”


After seeking shelter through the Alpha Project and securing a home through Father Joe’s Rapid Re-Housing Program, Murphy moved to San Carlos, obtained part-time employment and enrolled once again at Grossmont College two years ago. She leaves with associate degrees in sociology, university studies (social and behavioral sciences), and psychology.


She begins her bachelor’s degree program in sociology, with an emphasis in law and society, at UC San Diego in September. Then it’s on to law school.


“My lived experiences have been humbling, to say the least.  I dream of a more equitable society; I want to be a part of the legislative process that works to achieve this.”


Said Corona-Batalona: “Colleen has inspired so many and has left her legacy already at Grossmont for generations to come. Her story shows what is possible when we create safe spaces for students to thrive in. To really truly allow our students to be seen, heard and valued as human beings and start dismantling the stigma and shame. This is just the beginning for Colleen, I know she will move mountains.”