COLUMBIA — Stephanie Hernandez Rivera began her new job Monday as the coordinator for MU's Multicultural Center.
The position was left vacant for nearly a year after Pablo Mendoza resigned in 2013.
The 27-year-old is at MU while finishing up her master's degree in Women's and Gender Studies from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The first thing Hernandez Rivera said she will do is assess and observe how the center is running.
"I want to see what's working and then what needs to be re-evaluated and go from there," Hernandez Rivera said.
Her personal goal as the coordinator is to create an environment where students can ask questions and challenge preconceived notions. Students, she said, will be her focus.
"To an extent, it's not about what I want. It's about what the students' needs are, what the students need the center to be, and how I can assist in helping that occur," Hernandez Rivera said.
"I think the Multicultural Center serves as a resource and an educational piece outside of the classroom for students from majority groups on campus to become more culturally aware and culturally adept," she said. "I also think it serves a purpose for students who have been marginalized in different ways depending on cultures or groups they're a part of in society."
While the students work toward earning their degrees, Hernandez Rivera said she hopes that the center will help people become more attuned to the world around them.
Hernandez Rivera is also interested in exploring how to combat students — particularly students of color — from being "tokenized" in classrooms. She's brainstorming about an idea she calls "Things I wish my professor knew."
"It would be focus-group style just getting in and asking students their perspectives on what are some things they've experienced in the classroom that they wish their professors knew," she said. "And then hopefully that would encourage professors to have some kind of training regarding these issues and how to create a more inclusive environment."
She said that the goals of the Multicultural Center and college professors are similar because they're both trying to educate a community of people.
"If we joined forces, we'd be able to create students who are socially conscious global citizens who understand not just the climate here at the University of Missouri or the climate in Missouri but the climate — globally," Hernandez Rivera said.
Danielle Walker is the graduate assistant for the Multicultural Center. She helps the coordinator with logistics, programming and advising the student organizations.
Last year, when the center was without a coordinator, students and leaders from other organizations took on responsibilities to help everything run smoothly.
"Having a coordinator now will definitely help bring a little bit more stability and structure back to the center," Walker said. "That allows the student organizations to receive the proper attention and resources to help them flourish."
Walker has been involved with the Multicultural Center for several years and thinks it will benefit the students to have a coordinator again because they have knowledge and background to help students access and use various resources.
"I'm looking forward to the Multicultural Center expanding itself on Mizzou's campus, making its presence fully known with the other social justice centers," Walker said.
MU student Debrielle De La Haye has been involved in the Multicultural Center since she first came to MU nearly four years ago, and she is now an intern there. She is also a former president of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization on campus.
"I'm excited to have a person who hasn't been at Mizzou or in Missouri that can bring a fresh ideas and a new perspective," De La Haye said.
Hernandez Rivera said she's excited for this opportunity and is eager to see what the semester has in store.