Last year, the future of the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, remained unclear after the former Assistant to the Director Iris West resigned and Director Emma Sepulveda remained on administrative sick leave. Thus, a period of eight months remained in which the LRC faced an absence in staff due to West and Sepulveda being the only two employees operating the organization.
West left an impression on the university when she shared her four-page resignation letter with the UNR community. In her letter, she detailed the troubles she faced during her time at the university, particularly with the university administration regarding the prioritization of diversity and inclusion on campus.
“I refuse to be used as a prop that allows the College of Liberal Arts and the current university administration to pretend they care for diversity and inclusion […] I have experienced nothing but exclusion and disrespect for many years,” West wrote in her letter.
After much consideration, the Director of the LRC officially resigned on April 11, 2018.
“I think I felt that because of the environment at the university it was time for me to go,” Sepulveda said. “It was one of the hardest decisions that I have taken in my life because I love the students, I have a passion for teaching, I love what I did with the creation of the Latino Research Center and the incredible work that we did over the years. It was a very difficult decision but I needed to step away from the university.”
When Sepulveda mentions the environment at the university, she is specifically referring to experiences she describes as hostile during her time as a director — instances in which her car was keyed in the school parking lot and explicit images were placed in her university mailbox on multiple occasions.
Sepulveda says that she also did not agree with the decisions President Marc Johnson has made regarding issues of diversity such as appointing Chief of Staff Patricia Richard as chief diversity officer. Richard faced criticism for being appointed to the position due to her lack of experience in diversity work.
“We did not always have the support of certain members of the administration,” Sepulveda said. “I truly disagree with the approach that President Johnson has towards diversity on our campus.”
During the period of absence, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Debra Moddelmog, stepped down from her position as co-chair of the Hispanic Serving Institute committee on campus after reconsideration of her role.
“I’m dean and I have a lot of things to do so I have a very busy agenda but I felt that it was important to have somebody who represented the Latino/Latinx community,” Moddelmog said. “I was new here when they first asked me to do this and I’ve been here longer. I see that there are many people who are very capable of doing that so I just asked if somebody who represented that identity could be the co-chair instead of me.”
Furthermore, the association of Chicanx, Latinx and Indigenous UNR faculty and staff members, Alianza reached out to university faculty and staff inviting those interested in being part of a steering committee for the LRC. The steering committee consists of four assistant and associate professors from various colleges at university and replaced Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Darrell Lockhart who served as an acting director of the LRC for a brief period of time.
“The steering committee has been involved in a number of things this year,” Moddelmog said. “They’ve been keeping up a lot of things. She [Sepulveda] was the director and we were honoring that position and now that she stepped down they will take over and create it their own direction for the LRC as well as the next director coming in.”
Assistant Professor in the College of Education and member of the lead steering committee, Jafeth Sanchez says that she hopes to make the Latino Research Center an inclusive center that will focus on the Latino research that will maintain the lens that will include research from faculty and students. She hopes the research being done will consider components of outreach that will be able to ensure that there is involvement of stakeholders at various levels.
In addition to the steering committee, a graduate student worker was hired to keep the LRC in business. Sergio Trejo Jr. was hired in order to keep the door open at the LRC, attend meetings with the steering committee, answer phone calls and plan events such as the Latinx Graduation Ceremony in collaboration with the Center, Every Student, Every Story.
“This entire year was a rebuilding year and it was also a waiting year,” Trejo Jr. said. “A lot of the decisions when it came to hiring […] we couldn’t move forward then because we were waiting for Dr. Sepulveda because this was her center. They set up a steering committee but technically Dr. Sepulveda was above them even though she was absent. So they couldn’t really do much as far as giving me certain tasks and they would help me to the best of their ability.”
Despite these efforts, some students are not convinced that having a student worker to keep the door open is enough, especially since hours of the LRC are made to correlate with the schedule of part-time graduate student worker and a voicemail has not been set up for when individuals call the office.
“To be frank, I had no idea that the LRC was still open,” senior at the university, Joe Perez Alarcon said, “The university did not communicate this effectively with its students, at least not with the students who would regularly use the LRC’s services. As I see it, the LRC has been an inactive organization since the beginning of the year after the resignation of Iris West the assistant to the director. […] This organization has the capability and potential of genuinely assisting the growing Latino population at UNR. However, this will never occur under the management of a student worker.”
The current state of the LRC is a poignant reminder of the university’s lack of initiative towards diversity.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Moddelmog says that she plans to meet with the steering committee later this week to discuss the future plans within the LRC now that Sepulveda has resigned. Moddelmog plans to keep the steering committee in order to direct the LRC, hire new people, and conduct an internal search for an LRC director that will begin in Fall 2019.
Due to Sepulveda’s resignation, Trejo Jr. says that this has opened the floodgates for the committee to rebrand and figure the best course of action for the LRC.
“I hope that the administrators will focus on funding the Latino Research Center better than they did in the past,” Sepulveda said. “I hope they will hire a professor and a director that can follow the work that we started many years ago. I hope the LRC will continue to be a place where Latino students can feel safe, mentored, empowered, […] I hope that the new director and staff will take their time to really guide the students and fight for their rights like we did.”
Karolina Rivas can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @karolinarrivas.