Alumnus readjusts to her life after gun violence

A year ago, her stepfather was killed as a victim of gun violence. A month ago, as she commemorated him, a gun took the sight in her right eye.

These kind of hardships might stop some people, but Tanisha Saunders proves that her preaching for a positive attitude is more than just talk.  

Saunders was an involved student on campus and participated in student government and in the peer mentor program while attending Pierce. In fall 2016, she was chosen to be the commencement speaker, and she spoke about overcoming her struggles and prevailing through education.

She transferred to Cal. State Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), where she is studying public policy and education.

On Wednesday, August 9, as they commemorated the death of her stepfather, Saunders, her brother Dominique, and their family friend became victims of gun violence.

The Saunders’ survived the shooting with critical wounds, but their family friend died protecting the siblings.

“I was shot in the face,” Saunders said.

Saunders lost vision in her right eye and is coping with the fact that she is now a “different-abled” person.

“I’m doing fine,” she said. “Taking it one day at a time. One moment at a time. I thought I could get back to school and start a job, but I’m dealing with a new reality. I’m just trying to rehabilitate myself and get reacclimated with my academics, my social, personal and emotional life.”

Saunders said that because her injury happened a month ago, she is still not accustomed to her new life. It is now more difficult to walk and read, she said. Though she now has to fill out disability forms, she prefers to say she is “differently-abled” because she is still processing the effects of the incident.

“I know that I have to give myself and my body more time to heal. I’m still getting adjusted to what that means, because I’m still getting to know what that means, myself,” Saunders said. “I’ve heard disabled, but it’s settling in. That’s an emotional as well a physical task for me. Differently-abled is more comfortable to me right now as I’m coming more to term with things.”

Tanisha Saunder’s cousin La Mikia Castillo said the Saunders family is just glad that she is alive and safe. She is a strong person with a large support group of people who love her, stand by her and support her, she said.

“It’s very devastating what happened,” Castillo said. “Our family is very much against gun violence, and Tanisha and us are also very involved in Black Lives Matter. We condemn any violence against our community, within our community.”

Saunders said that her time at Pierce College reignited her curiosity for advocacy.

“I was able to explore different areas within my major and social issues such as homelessness, class matters, Black Lives Matter and education,” Saunders said.

During her last year at Pierce, she attended a financial literacy workshop at UCLA. It was in Campbell Hall that an African American student informed Saunders that she was in the hall where two members of the Black Panthers were murdered by the FBI.   

“It was in this moment that I felt an out-of-body experience, where I was like, ‘Wow, this education thing is much bigger than me.’ There’s a bigger opportunity for me to be involved in the community,” Saunders said. “I have the opportunity to be involved and comment and address the things that affect the things in my community on and off campus. I started to take back this passion to Pierce. I came back with this fire in me.”

Saunders said she realized that she could combine education and community and learn and teach from and within her community.

She was an amazing student leader,” Dean of Student Engagement Juan Carlos Astorga said. “She dedicated her heart and soul to the experience of being here on campus, offering support and being a very critical figure on our campus. She left an indelible imprint on us.”

Astorga was informed about the incident through a Facebook post that linked to a GoFundMe page accepting donations to help pay for the resulting medical bills.  

“It’s frustrating to know that this day in age students and individuals are still having to face and deal with violence,” Astorga said. “It’s horrific to know that a family friend has died in the exchange. And I’m praying for her family, and I’m hoping that her recovery isn’t very hard and extensive for her.”

The assault is undergoing investigation, and the Saunders family is not able to go into great detail regarding the situation.

However, Saunders reports that she is back at CSUDH for her final year of studies pursuing her bachelor’s degree.

She spent several days in the hospital in critical but stable condition, was released earlier this summer, and moved into her dorm in August. Though she said her life drastically changed, she never once considered abandoning her education.

“I thrive in school,” she said. “After everything that happened, there was no question that I would return to school. I had to go back to school.”

Saunders said she’s had to adapt to life in the aftermath of the shooting. Some days are easier than others.

“On bad days I have headaches, I don’t want to get out of bed, but I still do,” she said. “On good days, they are great days. I go on campus and see friends and administrators that knew me before the accident. They encourage me and support me.”

Vice President of Student Services Earic Dixon-Peters met Saunders when she joined the Peer-to-Peer Mentor program at Pierce.

“This is a very bubbly, active woman, who is full of life and really loves helping students,” Dixon-Peters said recalling his first impression of her. “There’s so many words to describe her. She’s energetic, positive, empathetic. But one word that will best capture what she did at Pierce would be…’empowering.’ She empowered other students to take charge of their future.”

Saunders said she is grateful for the support her friends, family, and the Pierce administrators have given her. She continues to be the cheerful and optimistic she is know

“Obviously, she’s going to be dealing with a lot, trying to overcome the trauma,” Castillo said. “But she’s still her happily and bubbly self and doing everything to continue her fight for justice and be a leader in her community.”

Astorga said that her return to school is very promising, and he hopes the best for her.

“She was very passionate about making a change in the world,” Astorga said. “She is a student who has seen and experienced tragedy and she still succeeds, and in spite of it all, she is a happy person and wants to make the most of her schooling. She’s a true scholar and leader.”

She is continuing her education and continuing her role as a social justice advocate.

“I’ll never stop being involved, because that’s a part of who I am. That’s a part of my identity,” Saunders said. “I will never stop fighting for others, because I can’t just fight for myself. I have to advocate, not just for myself, but for others.”