Earlier this year, I attended the NASPA Annual Conference for the first time, with generous support from the Women in Student Affairs Knowledge Community (WISAKC). While I traveled to four different conferences this past season to share my ongoing research, I purposely went to NASPA to engage with and learn from student affairs professionals who work daily to ensure student success on college campuses nationwide. Although as a researcher I am far removed from the daily student affairs work, I was welcomed and embraced by the Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) and WISAKC. After participating in a panel discussion with my colleagues about our roles as Latina women engaging in Men of Color research and mentoring initiatives, for the first time, I came to the sudden realization that communities of women and women of color have continuously provided me with the strength that has propelled me forward in this work.
As a Latina undergraduate student at a predominantly white institution, I heavily relied on a community of women for survival. I frequented the Women’s Center and engaged in leadership retreats throughout my time as a student. The single most important resource that played a major role in my development was the community I found among women of color–Mujeres. This student organization aimed at retaining women of color gave me a space to show up as my authentic self and be in solidarity with my hermanas who understood the challenges I experienced. The connection was immediate and not a single word had to be said to acknowledge our struggles on that campus. Together, we organized tamal fundraisers and led the march at the annual Take Back the Night walkout. Moreover, as a graduate student, I yearned for the same community and I created it by leading SisterCircle, a weekly space for women of color and femmes to foster community and support as we navigated an ivy league institution. Soon, our weekly group grew to include students from several colleges for weekly conversations where we could express ourselves without fear of judgment.
These feelings of nostalgia came back to me as I sat in the audience waiting for the WISAKC sponsored session, “Chingonas Disrupting Societal Expectations” to begin. I had seen a flyer about the session online but had forgotten to add it to my calendar. Luckily, I walked right by the session before it was about to begin. For those unfamiliar with the term, Chingona roughly translates to “badass woman” and is embraced by many empowered women who unapologetically disrupt societal expectations of them. A blissful energy filled the room as we patiently waited for the panelists, listening to la reyna del tex mex, Selena Quintanilla. Immediately, the room transformed into the same space I often frequented as a young student. A space of magic where I could let my guard down and introduce myself to those around me–students, doctoras, and practitioners–knowing genuine conversations would take place. It felt so wonderful to be in a space with so much melanin! I was taken back to the spaces that fostered the greatest sense of belonging for me during pivotal times in my development as a student at a predominantly white institution in Oregon. The feelings of camaraderie and sisterhood overwhelmed my heart with so much joy as I nodded my head to the advice shared by the panelists. Listening to Drs. Hernández and Abeyta, and future Drs. Durán and Martinez speak about overcoming challenges and sharing their triumphs made me feel seen. They spoke about issues in the workplace and issues with their familias and what it meant to embrace their college education to pave the way for other women in their family. The conversation regarding familismo and the choques we experience, stayed with me as I continue to unpack and understand those factors in my own healing journey. The panelists helped empower me to continue finding my voice, name my voice, and claim my voice. Little did I know, I was going to find my community once again at NASPA.
Diana Cervantes is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Program for Higher Education Leadership at The University of Texas at Austin where she is also a graduate research assistant for the Free College Equity Lab. Her research is focused on understanding the experiences of Latin* community college students. She is a proud Oregonian and a Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient. Diana earned Bachelor's degrees from the University of Oregon, graduating magna cum laude, and a Master of Arts in higher and postsecondary education with an emphasis in social/cultural and civic analysis from Teachers College, Columbia University.