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Dr. Hernández is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Fresno State University. To contact Dr. Hernandez, you may email [email protected]
What initially interested you in studying Latinos in higher education?
The collection of my lived experiences stimulated my interests in studying Latinx students, staff, and faculty in higher education. Having attended public school and college in Los Angeles County, I noticed many of my friends and family pushed out by educational systems. In high school, two of my closest friends didn’t walk with me in the graduation ceremony after a challenging senior year with little institutional support from counselors or teachers. During community college, I saw my brother and friends struggle to transition into postsecondary education, not because of academic rigors, but rather a lack of overtly expressed interest in whether they stayed or not. For instance, our professors would make clichéd comments that half of us wouldn’t make it to the semesters end.
My post-transfer experience, including the completion of my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, was similar. Multiple Latinx friends and acquaintances, although smart and capable, left school without completing their degree. This pattern of exclusion remained constant even as my identities shifted and evolved. For some time, I felt lost and alone in a sprawling university campus. Through various programs and services, most notably the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at California State University, Long Beach, I found and built community with others who were on similar journeys, including students, staff, and alumni. I also learned that my Cambodian friends shared similar experiences of being pushed out of unsupportive school systems. These patterns of exclusion and the collection of experiences catalyzed my commitment to learn about myself, my community, as well as other similar groups.
How has your research evolved over time? What is a finding you did not expect?
Generally, my research centers on the leadership development processes of Latinx leaders in US community colleges. A significant component of my research involves the groups that I study. In my doctoral program, my qualifying exam and dissertation research projects both received endorsement from the executive board of the National Community College Hispanic Council (NCCHC). I believe my research is important because most studies of higher education leaders typically focus on baccalaureate-granting colleges and universities, with even less attention paid to the intersection of race and leadership. Now in my role as an assistant professor, my research commitments align with my teaching responsibilities. Fresno State is both a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI); thus; the students in my classes and those I partner with to conduct research reflect this dual designation. My teaching and advising duties at Fresno State have inspired the use of critical race counterstories to recognize the voices of those silenced or obscured in mainstream leadership research (Hernández, 2016) and to inform practice for student affairs educators and other higher education professionals (Hernández, Hernández, & de la Teja, 2017).
What motivates you to continue writing and pursuing this line of work?
I think of my parents, my suegros, and the countless parents and grandparents who, collectively, have sacrificed so much for me and for all of us. I think of the years I spent waking up at 4:30 a.m. to beat traffic so I could balance work and school life. Remembering those challenging times offers me perspective for my current life in the academy.
How can your research influence the work of student affairs professionals?
My research can influence student affairs work if professionals in the field read it—and I hope they do. I count on my colleagues assigning my work to their students in student affairs/higher education graduate degree programs or recommending it to staff on their campus for professional development. From my work, I hope student affairs professionals can glean ways of engaging in reflexive thought and action. I think that’s challenging because many of us do not learn these lessons intentionally; they often come to us in hindsight, if at all. Student affairs professionals should make time for reflexive thought and action that is informed by emerging bodies of research in our field.
Do you have final words of advice?
I’ll pass along a dicho I grew up hearing: El que con lobos anda, a aullar se enseña. Translated this means: hang around wolves and you’ll learn to howl. I heard this saying a lot as a teenager, although it was delivered more as a warning than advice. A warning to avoid hanging around certain circles and associates. However, I turned this saying on its head in thinking about how I made friends in college. By seeking involvement opportunities, I met many lobos y lobas and learned to howl in ways that helped me make academic progress. I learned how to give back and be of service to other students, how to get a job on campus, and how to navigate the graduate school application process. Let’s always reach back and recall the lessons from our youth, they might be more valuable than we remember.
Hernández, I., Hernández, S., & de la Teja, M.H. (2017). Latinx student success: A community college student affairs leadership imperative. NASPA Leadership Exchange, 14(4), 22-24.
Hernández, I. (2016). La comunidad es la fuerza: Community cultural wealth of Latina/o leaders in community colleges. In N. Croom & T.E.J. Marsh (Eds.). Envisioning critical race praxis in higher education through counter-storytelling. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.