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Antonella Valdivia

What is your role and area of focus here at Vanderbilt University?

I am currently a first-year graduate student in the higher education administration program at Peabody College, and I am a graduate assistant with the Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence. In this role, I advise three of our multicultural student organizations, including the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS). I also help program and plan different initiatives through our office, such as End of the Month Kickback, For the Culture Fridays and iDialogues.

How did you arrive at Vanderbilt?

I was originally born and raised in Miami, Florida, and my entire family is from Lima, Peru. I got my bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami this past May. I say this because it was during my undergraduate experience, through my involvements in multicultural student affairs, orientation and student activities/development, that I became passionate about higher education and thought of it as a career. I decided I wanted to work at a university where I could serve and support students of diverse populations and incorporate social justice into an institution. When I applied for graduate programs, I wanted to diversify my experience from the one I knew at UMiami, and I wanted to make sure I would choose a place that would challenge me – which is how I ended up at Vanderbilt! And, while I’m still in my first semester, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Who were the key people that influenced you and helped you on your journey?

My family has always influenced me and motivated me in my journey. Being a first-generation student really drives me to be the best version of myself that I can be. My parents and specifically my older brother are also my best friends. They have influenced my values and beliefs, which I hold strongly whenever I study, work, or just live! I also was able to gain some valuable mentors when I was an undergrad that helped me figure out what I wanted and how I could live my life through a social justice framework. One thing that stuck with me from one of my mentors and that has influenced all of my actions in grad school: “Never lose your light. No matter how bad or crazy things may get, never lose your smile and your purpose! It’ll get you through the tough times.” This advice has never led me astray to this day.

What do you love about being Latinx?

Being from Miami allowed me the unique privilege of being in the “majority” my entire life. I think this is a special part of me that makes me truly love my Latinx identity wholeheartedly and unapologetically. Where I come from, being “brown” is beautiful, heritage means everything and culture is celebrated in the community and in my everyday life. I love every single part of being Latinx, from being bilingual in English and Spanish to celebrating Peruvian Independence Day every July 28th to baking alfajores with my mom. Being Latinx is the most important part of me, and not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate, love and give gratitude for that part of myself.

What does your Latinx identity add to your role here at Vanderbilt?

I am the only Latinx person in the office, which allows me to bring a unique lens to creative problem solving, programming, staff meetings and more. Advising ALAS has been a great experience here at Vanderbilt because it allows me to combine my favorite parts of my Latinx identity with serving students of my community. My Latinx identity also informs how I communicate with others at Vanderbilt which I think is so important! Since moving to Nashville, it’s been a transition to be the only Latinx person in the room, but this only motivates me to work hard to represent my community in the best possible way that I (as an individual) can.

What do you want others to know about the Latinx identity?

I want others to know that there are so many different communities within the umbrella of Latinx. While it is important to acknowledge that we can all identify as Latinx, there are so many ways that this community is different. There are thirty-three countries in Latin America and the Caribbean alone—not including any dependencies or territories! Yes, we all may be Latinx, but we are all so much more than that. Each country has its own history, culture, traditions, etc. Just acknowledging this is a step to a more understanding perspective of all identities under “Latinx.”

What are some key moments within Latinx history that are important to you?

When I was growing up, my grandpa made sure to teach me the history of Peru specifically. It was important to him that I not only knew where I came from but the historical importance of my heritage. One of the key moments in Latinx history that I think about often is the era of terrorism in Peru in the 1980s-90s. I think this is an important moment in Latinx history for me personally because it is a major reason that my parents emigrated to the United States. They wanted to give my brother and I the best chance at a “successful life.” More recently, I think the policies passed in the last year affect Latinx students in so many ways. From the changing DACA policies to families being separated, these issues are very real parts of being Latinx and these decisions are part of the history we are living in today.

What message do you have for the Vanderbilt community about serving and supporting Latinx community?

Latinx students make up 10% of Vanderbilt undergraduates. This number is significant! This is an entire group of students that should have resources and programming dedicated to the awareness, acknowledgment and celebration of the Latinx community. While there are places on campus, like ALAS, the Vanderbilt Latina/o Studies program and Center for Latin American Studies, where students can learn more and be in the community, there are also ways that Vanderbilt could improve. Serving and supporting the Latinx community means more than just programming. It means creating spaces of dialogue and environments of reprieve for ALL Latinx students. This means creating resources for DACA and undocumented students, LGBTQIA Latinx identifying and Afro-Latinx students too. I also think that it would help to create a physical place where students (and professionals) from all areas of Vanderbilt can come together!

What mark do you hope to leave on Vanderbilt, your community, the nation, the world?

I want to leave Vanderbilt knowing I made a difference for students of diverse backgrounds and Latinx students! I want to leave my mark by making an impact on students of color and helping create an equitable and supportive undergraduate journey for them by helping them realize their potential, their voice and their ability to shine their light.

What is a fun or interesting fact about you?

I am obsessed with the musical Hamilton! Apart from just being an awesome musical overall, the characters are the founding fathers of this country and are all played by actors that identify as people of color, which I think speaks volumes to the importance of diversity. I also know every word to every song!