OPINION: Pushed out

By Yuri Hern​ández Osorio | March 14, 2022 10:00am
by Andrew Gotshall / The Beacon

For almost five years, I have served in the role of Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) Coordinator at the University of Portland. My name is Yuri Hernández Osorio (she/ella) and I have the luxury of working in a field that brings me a lot of fulfillment from knowing that I get to impact the lives of minoritized students. I have been serving the UP Community, working alongside and for QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color)/historically excluded communities to make UP a inclusive and more equitable place.

This job is very fulfilling and also can be very heavy at times because as a woman of color, first generation student, Latina, and immigrant I know too well the complexity of navigating institutions of higher education as a minoritized person. I attended the University of Portland for my undergraduate degree and went onto the University of Michigan for my graduate degree. At both of these institutions I felt unsafe and experienced racism. Throughout both of those experiences, my wish was to have support, resources, guidance, and representation; a center or a person in a role that could support students like me. I vowed then, as a student, that I would become that representation I so desperately needed as a young person. 

In my role, I did just that, I supported students in every capacity that I could. I put on cultural events, created strategic plans, chaired committees, designed workshops and trainings, developed dialogues series, brought speakers to campus — the list goes on and on. I am extremely proud of the work I have done at UP and I take pride and comfort knowing that the seeds I planted at UP will continue to grow and flourish beyond my time. 

My time at UP has come to an end. As rewarding as this work has been, over the years I have voiced my frustration of the lack of investment and support for DIP and equity work at UP. Over the years I have operated as a “center” — being a one stop shop for all QTBIPOC and historically excluded students, yet many overlooked the fact that I was just one person with not even one office dedicated to this work.

The current number of students that identify as students of color has grown to 53% — that fact alone should be more than enough motivation to invest in this community. This number is only a snapshot of the full need. Many people have congratulated me on my new position and moving on from the University, calling it a great opportunity. However, few have questioned why I was seeking new employment in the first place. The honest answer is that the University of Portland did not care to invest in me and elevate me to a title and role I was already fulfilling but without the benefits, pay, title, and recognition. I feel that I was pushed out of the University of Portland. Calling it “pushed out” instead of “leaving” shifts the power dynamics and holds institutions accountable instead of blaming the individual. 

Reframing this mindset will help you better understand my situation. I had no alternative but to seek other employment opportunities — ones where I was being offered competitive salary, title change, and institutional support to do my job. I asked for each of these things at UP year after year. I have been doing the job of an entire center for the campus with only my student workers and myself. Our budget has not received an increase/investment since I have been in my position. I have been told this budget I have been operating with has not changed since it was established around 20 years ago. Like mentioned above, our diverse student population keeps increasing every year, but DIP tools and resources to support these very students have not. 

It has not been because I have not tried to get an investment and support from UP. I spent almost five years pushing this very issue and each time I was told “not this year, try again next year.” Well, next year never arrived. I somehow managed to make miracles and provide resources on that very low budget. Yet, it came at a very high cost — my health (physical and mental), burn out, and personal sacrifices. Without a professional staff and team I was left to do it all (long days, long nights, weekends) and by default my student workers helped fill in need when they could (on top of their very demanding student schedules). 

All these factors and more pushed me out. A person, no matter how resilient or passionate about their work, can only take so much and operate with little to no resources. That was my experience. I reached a point where I needed to value myself and my talents. I can only speak for my experience but feel strongly that many women of color feel pushed out of the University and eventually leave

We must ask ourselves, why are women leaving and look at the turnover of women of color at UP and the lack of women in positions of leadership and power. I strongly believe we are losing talented individuals that genuinely want to be at UP and care deeply about students. I felt like I had so much more to give, and my ideas and potential were never fully realized. 

I am proud to say I have also accomplished a lot of firsts in my role. I am the first person in this role and the first woman of color. I have built a peer mentorship program called UP Connections that supports QTBIPOC, undocumented, first generation and historically excluded students transition into college. I built this program from the ground up. 

I am so proud that UP Connections has an average retention rate of 92% across all cohorts since it started in 2018. I created the first QTBIPOC graduation celebration for the class of 2021. I created the first employee affinity group (Latinx) and helped my colleagues establish the other four. I, with other amazing women of color alumni, created the first BIPOC Alumni Chapter. I paved the way for the first Virgen de Guadalupe celebration on campus. I brought a Mariachi to campus and advocated to have the mass in Spanish and keep it at its original midnight mass. 

I created the first food pantry on campus as a direct response to the food insecurity that only increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I started the first scholarship for admitted students regardless of their immigration status called “La Mariposa Monarca: Dreams Have No Borders.” 

Though, all these firsts and accomplishments did not come without their fair share of resistance from leadership, and I was told “no” too many times along the way. I name all my accomplishments and share all of this with you, to remind you that women of color and minoritized women are grossly overlooked, forgotten, replaced, and not credited for their contributions. I am not immune to this. I name my accomplishments because I know this is the only way to credit my work and not allow it to be co-opted by others.

Ultimately, my departure will be felt the hardest on the students I served. UP students deserve investment and a structure that is not dependent on one person to fill all the student needs. My work has helped students feel like they belong at UP and I know my departure has them worried.  My recommendation as I leave is that DIP truly needs proper investment and support. I recommend that DIP become a full center, one that has a director and multiple program coordinators (a program coordinator for UP Connections, a program coordinator for LGBTQIA+ students, and a program coordinator for DIP). That is just the beginning. This can only work if it continues to grow along with the demands and ever-changing demographics of the student population. I recommend a full investment to the DIP budget that has not changed in over two decades. 

I hope my departure will create space for the next change agent. Ultimately, I’m so grateful for my time at UP. I had a unique opportunity to work alongside some of my college mentors turned colleagues, met some amazing faculty and staff, created a colleagueship and community that goes beyond the bluff, and of course worked with the most amazing students that taught me just as much as I taught them. Although I am physically leaving the University, I will forever be an alum of this institution and I will work hard to continue the scholarship I started. I also encourage you to reach out to me if you have any questions or want to stay connected. I believe in the power of mentorship and if anything from my story sparked something for you, know I am here. You can add me on Linkedin.

Yuri Hernandez is the former Coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion Programs at UP. She now works at UC Berkeley, and can be reached at hernandy@umich.edu

Have something to say about this? We’re dedicated to publishing a wide variety of viewpoints, and we’d like to hear from you. Voice your opinion in The Beacon