How long have you been at Cazenovia College?
I joined the College in mid-September of 2020. This is a newly created position developed to address any potential issues of inequity and to assure and enhance an environment supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion practices on campus. The role is an outgrowth of the President’s Commission on Equity and Diversity and it was composed based on earlier work of the college community in wanting this capacity.
What is your main function in the Office of Student Affairs?
I’m charged with making sure the college is doing all it can to assure and enhance an environment supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. Another focus is working to assure that students have a voice, that they can enhance that voice, and that they have an advocate for their viewpoints and needs. By overseeing The MOSAIC Center and our MOSAIC student directors, I hope that we as a team can bring cultural programming that impacts our students to be more reflective on their own experiences and privileges. I also co-chair the President’s Commission on Equity and Diversity with faculty representative Dr. Rachel Dinero.
What is your background, and what work have you done before coming here?
I was born in Ecuador and emigrated to Anaheim, California, with my mother; my father had emigrated as a migrant farm worker prior to our arrival in California. We later moved to northern New Jersey where my father and mother’s family had emigrated and where there were more job opportunities.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from William Patterson University in New Jersey and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I chose UTSA strategically, as it is a Hispanic-serving institution, and I wanted to have the opportunity to attend a college that had faculty and staff who looked like me and understood my struggles. I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Executive Leadership program at St. John Fisher College.
I previously worked as a community development specialist/assistant director at the State University of New York College at Oswego and as a residence hall director at the State University of New York College at Brockport. In both residential life positions, my focus was to bring multicultural programming to the residence halls and professional development opportunities for professional and para-professional staff members. I first began my work in multicultural affairs during my graduate years at UTSA working in the Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion. Its focus was on multicultural programming, civic engagement, and volunteer opportunities for the entire main and downtown campus.
Why did you choose to come to Cazenovia?
I previously worked with Dr. Karey Pine, vice president for student affairs, who made me aware of the position being established and about the inclusion and diversity work the College is doing.
Importantly, the job description was very clear about this role being an advocate for students. That told me the College was open to hearing about potential issues, to having its systems challenged, and to addressing needs. The second attraction was that when I visited, I could see that the community itself was open-minded; it had an anti-racism coalition and I saw LGBTQ flags and Black Lives Matter posters. As a predominantly white institution historically, I understood that the College was interested in making changes because 30 percent of its students are students of color. All of that is what attracted me.
What is your philosophy and orientation to your work?
It is influenced by my own perspective of being an immigrant Latina, first-generation college student, English as a second language, and whose family and friends are undocumented. I choose to work in predominantly white institutions because I remember when I was an undergraduate student - that I did not feel that sense of belonging. I had to figure out everything on my own and did not know departments on campus. I was just focused on getting good grades and to build confidence that I belonged in college. I have found that in all my years of working in New York State, there are many students with similar experiences as mine. I want to make sure that I can help mentor them, provide them with resources, validate their experiences, and help them navigate through an educational system.
What’s tremendously important to me is the fact that Cazenovia acknowledges that they may not yet be doing things correctly, but that the College wants to learn, to be there for our students, to call out racism and injustice happening in society. That testament comes out in every person I talk to from different offices here and it shows that they’re genuinely interested in making that happen.
What do you think is most important part of your job?
Really, it’s representation, to bring more representation of multicultural affairs in a sense of diversity, inclusion, equity, social justice, and having a voice for students, helping them enhance that voice, and advocating for their needs. It’s advocating for student rights, human rights, advocacy rights. Developing the trust with students is so needed, and I hope to bring that here, and I think that’s the charge the President’s Commission wants.
Recognizing that you’ve been on campus just one semester, what kind of plans are in the works?
Reaching out to students via The MOSAIC Center’s social media. Hosting multicultural awareness programs, celebrations, and documentaries. Trainings on microaggressions and dialogues on issues. Developing alumni career service panels and mentoring groups to offer role models and show students how to succeed at Cazenovia and then out in the world. Trainings focused on the LGBTQIA+ community to help faculty and staff learn terminology, why pronouns are important, to explain non-binary identities and expressions. Hosting a lavender ceremony, a first-generation graduation ceremony, and multicultural graduation ceremony. Having better communication and trainings with campus safety and with the local community officials and residents.
How can the community become involved in what you’re doing?
Come to a training, come to a program, check out our social media (@cazmosaic on Instagram). Even if you do that just one time, I promise it will open some thinking and dialogue. I am sure we can find some commonality. That’s a start to making our country and our society more open and more accepting, by being able to hear each other’s experiences and perspectives. After dialogues, its validation and that’s the hard part but not impossible. We all belong here, and we all have similar goals, to belong, to be successful, to be healthy, and to have an education. For me, I am an open book; I love to talk to anyone, even if we have opposing views because those are the moments where you learn, and ideas are created. Feel free to reach out to me with any ideas or concerns that you think I may need to look into or address. I am here for the betterment of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and village community.