Following the departure of the department director, the Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion welcomed Michelle Hernandez as its new assistant director at the beginning of the month. With a passion for helping underrepresented students in higher education, Hernandez hopes to provide those in marginalized communities resources and a safe space to pursue their dreams. As a child to two first generation immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Hernandez approaches helping students from a different lens.
“Having parents that aren’t from this country and growing up with them made me see the help these kinds of students need,” Hernandez said. “For me, it’s like ‘this person could have been my mother when she was in college, this person could have been my father.’”
After graduating from Fairfield University with a bachelor’s degree in English and education and a master’s in creative writing, Hernandez worked in the Fairfield University’s diversity center as an advisor for predominantly marginalized students. She hopes to continue her work connecting underrepresented students to the resources they need and encouraging those without a platform to advocate for themselves.
“Underrepresented populations are very different from those who come from more affluent backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve always seen a pattern in the fact that they don’t know they need help, they don’t know how to need [help], they don’t know how to advocate for themselves.”
When asked what she wanted to accomplish in her position, Hernandez echoed this theme of advocacy. Hernandez reminds students that they have the power to be their own change and that there are people who can help students best take advantage of the resources available to them.
“There’s always flaws in the system. Despite the discomfort, there’s always something you can do about it, so I want to help students voice those opinions and try to make a change,” Hernandez encouraged, adding that “If you’re at capacity to make a change or contribute to an idea, I think it’s worth it.”
Hernandez owes much of her drive for diversity and inclusion to the college students she has advised. Many students that Hernandez had previously advised include immigrants and English as a Second Language learners.
“I had a student tell me that when she moved to the country and she met me, she really felt like she could continue studying and that she belonged here even if she was the only Afghani student on campus. She felt like she belonged because of me… I was stunned, I knew I helped her, but I had no idea… There’s always one student every year that inspires me to do that kind of work.”
The only thing that seems to rival Hernandez’s passion for students is her pride in her writing. Hernandez not only works with students on diversity and inclusion topics, but also dedicates her time to writing about diversity, equity and inclusion subjects. Having grown up writing to express herself, Hernandez has found her niche in the creative non-fiction genre. During her master’s program, she wrote a memoir and is looking to become published.
“I write about ethnicity, education, class and feminism, because I feel like those four components have been a big part of my life, obviously. So, I just want to share my experiences,” Hernandez says, “Because there is diverse literature, but I feel like a lot of literature taught in schools before college is on white, male [and] cis experiences. We already know these experiences. Why can’t we teach kids something that reflects them?”
At the end of our time together, Hernandez had one message that she wanted to express to the campus community.
“Never give up on what you’re passionate about. Never give up on your dreams— which sounds cheesy— but I got my masters in creative writing… Writing doesn’t make money, but the way it makes me happy, the way I can flex the skills I have and my passion for diversity and inclusion— I can make it work… Always recognize what makes you happy and how you can work with that.”
Assistant Director Hernandez is excited to be welcomed to the Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion and to begin the work she will do for the student body.