MA in Latin American Studies Alumna, 2016
October 5, 2018
Diana graduated from the University of Florida in 2016 with a Masters in Latin American Studies from the Center for Latin American Studies. Diana currently works as the Assistant Director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs at the University of Florida. In her position, Diana works with a diverse community of students, where she oversees the university’s social justice education programs. Below is our interview with Diana.
I am the Assistant Director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs at the University of Florida; specifically, I oversee our social justice education programs. The path to my current position started with the UF Hispanic Latino Affairs, as a Program Coordinator. In this position, I was creating programs for Hispanic/Latinx students. I really appreciated being able to work with my community and being able to program around issues of social justice and of concerns to our students. Thankfully, there have been opportunities for growth and I was able to move on and become the Assistant Director of the Department of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs. Even though I still work with Hispanic Latino students, in this position I am able to expand my reach and work with multiple communities of students.
I have always been interested in issues of human rights, civic engagement, and social justice. As a MALAS student, I was in the Latino Studies concentration and I did an internship with an organization called Make the Road New York. They are a community organization focused on the civic and political engagement of Latino immigrants in New York City. My experience with Make the Road and my experience in the classroom propelled that passion. In my current position, I am really excited that I get to talk with various student communities about social justice and how the struggles of different communities are connected. That’s been a really gratifying experience.
One of the main programs I oversee is called Gatorship. This is a social justice educational program that culminates in an off-campus weekend retreat. Students are able to talk about their social identities, their experiences, and their backgrounds. They listen to each other and learn from the multiple identities that UF students bring with them. Through this initiative, we facilitate conversations around social systems. For example, how is your experience as a Latina connected to social systems of immigration, of race, of gender? How does your experience impact your life and how do the experiences of your peer as a Muslim American male impact his life? We also talk about privilege and learn how we sometimes walk in privilege. This program gives us the opportunity to talk about how people from different backgrounds are connected to different social systems and the different impacts that have. Programs like this allow our students to, maybe for the first time, not feel isolated in their experiences. We find this to be a really powerful program for our students as they go through this stage of development, of figuring out who they are and their place in the world.
Another program we are working on is Anti-Racism Education Week. Through the program, we’ll offer students a lecture on the racialization of immigrants. This topic is something that is closely tied to me and the Center. I remember to this day one of the most powerful books that I read, that was assigned to me by Dr. Williams, was called Impossible Subjects by Mae Ngai. This book really changed my perspective because even though I’m myself an immigrant, I never really understood the historical legacy of the racialization of immigrants and how it’s impacted different communities. This book helped me understand how policy can shape racial lines in the United States. To me, this was very enriching and eye-opening, and I think it would be something helpful for our students to understand when it comes to racism and anti-racism. So as part of Anti-Racism Education Week, we’re offering a lecture on this topic.
What has been so enriching to me, is the opportunity to be part of the development of a student’s political and personal awareness and consciousness. To be along that journey and witness their growth over time has been incredible. It is really rewarding to know you were a drop in the bucket of that person’s life growth. This also gives you a little hope, because there are so many things going on in the world that can seem very negative and overwhelming, but to work with young people and to understand they have this level of idealism and passion that they’re going to carry forward is really nice.
I had fantastic academic professors and mentors, like Dr. Paulson, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Vargas, who was also my committee chair. Dr. Resende, even though I didn’t even have a class with her, became an incredible advocate and mentor. I feel like not only did I get the content in the classroom, but I was able to witness a model for what it means to be an advocate and mentor. I learned to understand the importance of the academic community and also the importance of community in general. I was also very lucky to have a cohort of students and colleagues that I was very close to, and that helped me understand how important it is to build community within one space. I build friendships that lasted beyond the program and I hope will last a lifetime. At the Center, there was this sense that Latinidad wasn’t lost within the heaviness of academia, because there were a lot of interesting and fun events; there was space to be human within the work. This formed my views of what I wanted in a profession. The understanding that I need space here in my work to be human, and so do students. When I teach a class, I don’t just want to be a professor for my students, but I also want to be their mentor and advocate. I want our students to be fully themselves in the classroom as much as they can.
My advice would be to invest in the Center, invest in the people in the Center and in the community. Don’t forget that even though you’re busy with assignments, and meetings, and homework, that there is also a community you can connect to outside of the Center in the larger Gainesville area. This community can help route you a little bit to the place where you will be spending maybe two years, maybe more, of your lives. I would remind them that even though academia can sometimes feel isolating, that they should connect with other people and not to forget that community is what can help you through.