Gatepost Interview: Fernando Rodriguez Student Trustee

(Photo by Melina Bourdeau)

Where did you grow up?

I’m from Boston. As a child I’ve always been a quiet kid, playing Gameboys and Pokemon and things like that. Then high school came and I got involved in track and field, and just came out of my shell. I got involved as my class president in high school, and I started a kind of student group outside of school, and I really found my passion for student advocacy and social justice. So I did a lot of stuff, like trying to get ethnic studies into Boston Public Schools. And this was all as a high school student, so I’ve always had that kind of “radical mindset” and as I got into college I kind of learned to tone it down and be both a social justice activist and a professional. I have to be, especially in the position I’m in right now as Student Trustee.

What are the responsibilities of the Student Trustee?

Every institution has a board of trustees. And as you know, Massachusetts has a Board of Higher Education, so basically we’re under them. For our state school we have one, and I’m just sort of a student member. So basically we vote on things like budgets or when it comes to looking for a new president – those sort of decision comes from the trustees.

What is your history with the Center for Inclusive Excellence?

Formally known as the Multicultural Center, my journey started there sophomore year. I thought about transferring because I just didn’t feel like my passion for social justice was kind of being met. … I didn’t find a group or club or anything that I felt met my needs or desire for social activism, and randomly I saw a table for the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, and it was basically just faculty and staff that came together out of their own free will and time to work on stuff that involved diversity and inclusion on campus. I decided I wanted to be a part of that and we created a student sub-group, and that sub-group was led by me and a student that was here before me. Then I started taking over my sophomore year, my junior year, and now people know we’re Student Leaders in Diversity, and I’ve been doing events on campus on all sorts of things – sexual assault awareness, LGBTQ awareness and issues on that, mental health issues, Latino Heritage Month – so basically anything related to diversity and inclusion, we’ve kind of touched base on.

What advice would you give to students coming to Framingham State University?

I’d say definitely get involved. If you don’t feel like your experience is as adequate as you think it should be or if it’s not worth what you’re paying for education, get involved, and see if that changes. It definitely helped me out. … Right now, I’ve seen the growth of Framingham State University from my freshman year to my senior year, and the changes that are happening. I went from a student who wanted to transfer to a very prideful student who now represents students in the Board of Education.

How are you involved in B2B, and what is it?

B2B is a new initiative on campus. It’s called Brother to Brother. If we look at numbers and statistics, especially for men of color, our retention rates and graduation rates are the lowest amongst our peers and our counterparts. Our chances of obtaining a job, with good pay, are also lower. So Brother to Brother is an open group, but the main mission is to create a brotherhood on campus where we’re supporting one another, or we help each other obtain those goals. … So basically helping us change those statistics.

If you could advise students to take any class, what would it be?

I think, for me, what’s really big is to get out of your comfort zone. So a class that requires you to actually think and engage in conversations – especially conversations that are difficult to have. I’m pretty sure there’s a Linnea Carlson course called Race and Ethnic Relations, and basically you’re going to go from talking about white privilege, to talking about Latino culture, to talking about Islamophobia. These are hard topics that people are scared to talk about and I think that the heavy ones, the big ones … I think having these conversations are important.

Who are your role models?

I have two very important role models in my life right now. One of them is Patricia Sanchez-Connally, and Kathy Martinez. The reason I chose these two individuals as my inspirations, and the people I look up to, is because they’re the ones who have seen the potential in me and invested in me that other people haven’t. They’ve given me the opportunity to express myself, be myself, and they’ve gone above and beyond their roles as a professor and a director of the Center to get involved in my life and help me succeed, and put me in roles of leadership on campus. One of the courses that I took was Latinos in America with Patricia, and that got me thinking about my life and how I got where I am, but how many people in my shoes aren’t as successful as I am because of the support from people like her. And Kathy’s an inspiration, a testament to what I feel like I can be one day, working in diversity inclusion. If I can do my job half as well as she does, I feel like I can be a successful person.

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