Meet student leader Denise Fernández who is currently majoring in Ethnic Studies and minoring in Communications. She is an active member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA) of Sac State, Students for Quality Education (SQE), and La Contra.
(Denise Fernández at Sac State’s campus; November 2016)
Three words that describe you: Resilient, Passionate, and Thoughtful
Tell us about your leadership journey: My leadership is propelled by my passion for social justice aimed to uplift marginalized communities. My development as a student leader began through my involvement as a first year student with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA). Beyond serving as a campus organization, MEChA provided me education and inspiration in understanding and teaching others about the challenges surrounding the cultural, political, social and educational climate for students of color. Through MEChA I was exposed to exceptional social justice work and met peers, staff, and faculty who took time to mentor and develop my leadership potential. I also gained technical leadership skills when I was given an opportunity to plan MEChA’s annual youth conference, learning the ins and outs of conference planning and community outreach. During my second year of college I became an active member of Students for Quality Education (SQE). Much like MEChA, my involvement with SQE gave me access to conversations that have enriched my understanding of my own leadership and social justice. As I continued my journey, I was searching to broaden my knowledge of issues I cared deeply about. In spring 2014, I joined a cohort of women with feminist ideals to start La Contra. What I appreciate most about La Contra were the dialogue circulos aimed at discussing topics such as identity politics, queer visibility, self-healing, and educational experiences of marginalized students. This was also the space I learned to effectively lead and facilitate discussions. Joining all three student led based organizations has truly shaped the direction of my leadership journey.
What motivates and/or inspires you? I am uplifted everyday by the beautiful strength and heart of my community. During my first semester, I began attending events and workshops that exposed me to political and cultural organizations. I was introduced to various community organizations such as Sol Collective, Sacramento Immigration Alliance, and UNITE HERE! that facilitated and expanded my knowledge of social justice. Through my involvement I have learned how to be critical of the world around me, how to express my emotions in productive ways, and what it means to truly be an advocate for marginalized communities. For this reason, my determination is driven by the people at the forefront of the struggle to dismantle systems of discrimination and social inequity.
What does leadership mean to you? A great leader empowers others around them. They share communal conocimiento with others in order to build a stronger organization and community. A leader must also strive to create safe spaces, a place where students can be their authentic selves free of marginalization and judgment, in order to cultivate a culture of inclusivity, consciousness, and love.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life? My journey as a leader has been impacted most by the community that I have created here at Sacramento State; all the people I have met along the way have contributed to my development as a scholar, activist, and individual. Any time I have felt like giving up or not putting in my best effort, they have always been there to remind me of my strength and potential as a student leader. They have held me in times of distress and have also celebrated with me in times of happiness.
How do you think your various life experiences have influenced your leadership journey? As a Xicana from a working class background, my first hand experiences with institutional classism, sexism, and racism have fueled my passion to engage in social justice work and action. Immersing myself in political and educational advocacy has also helped me gain knowledge on various communities that do not form part of my identity. As a student activist, I realize my struggles and the struggles of my community intersect and occur simultaneously, for this reason my leadership journey has been heavily influenced by the work done in social justice spaces locally and across the world.
If you could give one piece of advice to new Hornets, what would it be? Surround yourself with people who will uplift and support you as a person. As a first-generation college student, I often felt discouraged by institutional obstacles and have felt like I do not belong in this university system. One of the few things that has gotten me through times of self-doubt was knowing that I had a community of students, faculty, and staff who validated my experience. As I answered in the previous question, it is important to find a community you can share your struggles with as a student. For me, spaces like the Multi-Cultural Center, Women’s Resource Center, and PRIDE have contributed to my overall understanding of my identities and the multiple identities of marginalized communities. I am grateful to find a community that understood my experience as a first generation-working class student; the affirmation of my personal journey and my leadership potential allowed me to be confident in my understanding of the environment around me.
(MEChA’s 21st annual Chicanx Youth Conference; November 2014)
(SQE members at the Solidarity with Fast Food workers striking and calling for a $15 minimum wage; April, 2015)
(Members of La Contra tabling for La Raza Bienvenida; September, 2015)