Alondra Martinez’s coursework and on-campus position both align with her passion to see more students like her, from underrepresented backgrounds, “achieve anything they want.” Alondra, a Rowan Global student in the M.A. in Higher Education program, works as a graduate coordinator with the Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR) office. Alondra is a first generation college student and second-year graduate student from Atlantic County.
Can you tell me about what you do?
My role in SJICR is … I run all cultural engagement programming, along with the assistant director of cultural engagement and another graduate coordinator. Right now I’m the only one, but I do Women of Color Collective (WCC). I host it biweekly. And it’s kind of like a program to invite women of color on campus to be able to come together and just network, talk about different topics that are related to being a woman of color in our society and things like that.
What is the most rewarding part of your position?
I think now that we’re in person, the most rewarding part is starting to meet more students. I think that’s why I got into higher education. Because I like to connect with students, especially other first-gen students, other students that are people of color, are just more like Latinx students, because those are my identities. So being able to, for them to see someone like me, getting a graduate degree, that’s important to me.
So this is your second year. So you started here with pretty much a full year online?
Is there anything else you like that’s different now as opposed to last year?
I think the fact that we’re in person, it was really hard to adjust. My first year as a grad student and having online classes, I was kind of unmotivated, to be honest. I didn’t have a proper desk at home, you know, [though] I did live on campus. But sometimes it was kind of scary to stay on campus, just because I didn’t know if, from one day to another, a roommate was going to come in contact with the virus.
So now being here now is exciting, so I’m happy and like I said before, I’m really happy to actually meet more people. I feel like I’m actually forming a part of the Rowan campus community.
How has being a woman of color affected your work and your education?
I think it can be really nerve-racking. It was nerve-racking to get my bachelor’s and now it’s even more nerve-racking to be in a graduate program. A lot of times in class I’ll feel a little insecure academically, I won’t really believe in myself and I feel very anxious in class because it’s a lot of pressure especially being first gen and a woman of color.
I feel like I need to make not only my parents proud and my entire family because they’re like looking at me as an example but I also feel like it’s my duty to other women of color that are still undergraduates for them to be able to see someone like me, someone like them, thriving in academia and just being in the position that I am.
How do you deal with that? What do you do about it?
I try to stay on top of my game, organizing myself and making sure that I’m just fulfilling all my duties [for school] and my work setting because I don’t just work here in SJICR, I also have another part-time job as an advisor at my local community college. So I’m just trying to make everyone around me proud but also myself proud. Because I don’t want to just do this for everyone else. I also want to do this for me.
Why did the M.A. in Higher Education program appeal to you?
I think I was looking to be closer to home this time. When I was going to Montclair [for undergrad], I was two hours away from home. And now I’m just an hour away, but I’m in South Jersey. So I wanted to be able to do a higher ed program somewhere close to home to just get to know my surrounding community more, and be able to connect with more people here as I am connected over there in North Jersey. And I think also just my program in general, I’m excited because I get to take a few counseling courses. And outside of that, I’m doing the grad coordinator [position] here in the social justice office. So I feel like it’s all helping me toward my career goal.
Have any faculty or classes been especially impactful for you?
Yes. I had this one class, it was called Higher Education in America. And my professor’s name was Dr. Wright-Mair. She was very impactful, because she’s a woman of color herself. But she was especially impactful, because I felt like she just was very passionate about the work she does. And she really wanted us to actually learn and just continuously challenged us. And I think that’s really what I need sometimes, I need a professor to care, but also be able to challenge you, not baby you. So to be able to have both, and just in general, have a woman of color as my professor, that was very important to me.
It was a good class, it teaches you about the history of higher ed and you really get to learn the good and bad. She really is here for a purpose, more than just a teacher. She really does care for students. And I feel like more professors should be like her.
What advice would you have for those who want to go into your field?
If you want to go into this field, I feel like you have to come in with a purpose. A lot of people that do come into higher ed, I feel usually there was an experience that they had in college, like during undergrad, that really brought them to want to serve students at a college level. So I feel you always have to have your purpose in mind. Because higher education … can be a hard field to work in sometimes just because of a lot of things [are] happening at once. So I guess my advice is to always try to define your purpose. You know, try to find that why, and that will always keep you going.
And what is your purpose? What is your why?
As someone that comes from an underrepresented background, for more students that are underrepresented in higher education, to have someone like me, they’re like visible to know that they’re able to achieve anything that they want. So really, it’s just to continue that legacy of being in spaces where maybe we thought we would never be able to be in.
Last year, you helped lead a university discussion called Language Matters. Can you tell us more about your campus work with inclusive language?
I was a part of this workshop, and I think it all ties in with working within the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion and Conflict Resolution. We really try to be inclusive of everyone, and I’ve really learned the importance of inclusive language.
But also, another part of why language matters is like, for example, like I said, my name is Alondra [pronounced ah-lohn-drah] and I would never want to be referred to as Alondra [mispronounces her name]. But I know sometimes, people can’t pronounce my name, which is OK. But I always give the option of like, you can call me Alondra, or you call me Alo — you know, like aloe vera.
When I was in undergrad, one of my mentors gave a workshop called, “Y Tú Quien Eres,” or “And Who are You?” We talked about how sometimes you’re in class or sometimes you introduce yourself. And it’s happened to me multiple times, like in a work setting, or even in class, I’ll say, “My name is Alondra,” like, “Oh, Alondra” [mispronouncing her name]. And it’s like, no, that’s not my name, stop trying to correct me on how I know the pronunciation of my name.
I think it’s just important to be able to be inclusive of that and be aware of how important that is to some people, because I know sometimes it’s not important to others.
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