Fernando Paz, the interim coordinator for the Latinx Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE), lives through the words of Saint Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
“In that context, I am a social arsonist. I’m looking to help people find the fire they have within them,” Paz said. “I’m one of those people who believes that we are all born with a gift, that we all have something that God gave us. We all carry a piece of the divine.”
Paz began his career at Humboldt State University in 2000 when he set out to earn degrees in history and ethnic studies. Almost two decades later, he has gone on to work with organizations like True North and Latino Net to focus on immigration advocacy in Humboldt County. Paz was raised in Los Angeles, Calif. by immigrant parents from Mexico. With his wife and three children by his side, he places family and community as his top priorities.
“Organizing is more than a full-time job. I see how I can bring the skills I learned from it here: helping people claim their voice and claim their power,” Paz said. “You can flourish academically and culturally by being who you are. You can flourish and be nurtured by the roots that you come from.”
Paz hopes to apply his social justice organizing experience and skills toward his mission at the LCAE while building upon the relationship between the university and the surrounding community. Acknowledging Humboldt State University as a Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI), he aims to bring to light that success comes from recognizing the intellectual contributions of people from this historical cultural trajectory.
“My desire to be part of this center is to be in the position that recognizes the genius, the experience, and the knowledge that students of marginalized communities bring to HSU and to nurture that,” Paz said. “I want the center to be seen as critical to the university’s success and broadly in the campus community.”
Kenya Uhuru James Nunley
Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Kenya U James Nunley has polished her academic skills as a student and staff member in institutions of higher education around the country.
“Humboldt is different, it’s not New York and it’s not Los Angeles,” Nunley said.
After having lived in Georgia and graduating from high school in Hawaii, Nunley studied and worked at Oklahoma State, New York University, UCLA, and USC. Nunley now brings her strong interest in the experiences of students of color to the African American Center for Academic Excellence (AACAE) at Humboldt State.
“I’ve always been involved in the Black student experience on campus—as a student and as a staff member. It’s been a passion and interest of mine,” Nunley said. “I knew that moving into a cultural center was a direction I wanted to go in my career in higher education.”
Nunley’s master’s thesis at Oklahoma State–which focused on comparing the Black student experience at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) versus predominantly white institutions (PWI)–led to the creation of the Uhuru House, themed student housing named after Kenya’s middle name. Similar to the Sankofa House at HSU, it was designed for students to feel supported and connected as they center in on the experiences and heritage of Black/African people.
In light of some of the unique challenges that students of color face at Humboldt State University and in the community, Kenya hopes to contribute to efforts towards creating a cohesive unit among the centers.
Grecia Rojas, a Chicana born and raised in East Los Angeles, is returning to Humboldt State University after graduating with degrees in political science and criminal justice studies in 2012.
“It was really sad and frustrating for me to hear that the retention rates haven’t changed,” Rojas said. “You come from a very segregated area like LA where its majority is Latino, Hispanic, and Mexican American communities. When you come here it’s different. It’s a huge culture shock. It makes low retention rates a little more understandable but it’s clear that if it’s been a problem for so long, it’s not the students.”
Since graduation, Rojas has been community organizing with True North in Del Norte County. Inspired by her work with immigration policy and thriving after coming from a high school that didn’t prepare her for college, Rojas aims to create a space where students are set up for success.
“I don’t think college is supposed to be a walk in the park but it just seemed a lot harder and was definitely intimidating” Rojas said. “People just didn’t feel welcomed and being a person of color has a lot to do with it.”
Returning to campus this semester as a coordinator for the MultiCultural Center (MCC), she is excited to contribute to the safe space that the center offers students.
“I want the MCC to continue the legacy of what it’s been. It’s a home away from home, a place where students can feel safe,” Rojas said. “But I also want to hold HSU to a higher standard because it is an institution, and it’s one where students should feel safe.”