As a high school student, Iris Morales was inspired by the writings of Malcolm X and his ideas of self-determination as well as then ongoing struggles for community control of public schools and other institutions.
As a tenants’ rights organizer, she formed associations that fought for better housing and living conditions. She also marched in opposition to the United States war in Vietnam.
After high school, Ms. Morales the City College of New York where she majored in political science and co-founded PRISA, the first Puerto Rican student organization on campus, which fought to expand the admission of Puerto Rican and African American students, establish Black and Puerto Rican studies programs, and increase the hiring of faculty of color. During this time, she was a Puerto Rican history and English teacher at the Academy for Black and Latin Education, a community organization that prepared young people who had dropped out of school to obtain a high school diploma.