Campus life: Christina Hernandez
Christina Hernandez sits in an office with Starbucks coffee and a half-eaten coffee cake checking emails for the priority of the day.
Her office is covered in student paintings. Beside her desk is a wall full of photos of her wife and twins, Sofia and Joseph. Behind her hangs a pinboard with feminist posters, one reading, “International Drag Day,” another “Femin(ista).”
As director at UNLV’s Jean Nidetch Women’s Center, 35-year-old Hernandez works as a champion of student rights and leads the center in community outreach.
Hernandez grew up in a Latino household with a Mexican mother and a Cuban father, and two brothers and a sister. Hernandez recalls large family gathering in her youth fostering an important sense of community and togetherness. It’s one of the reasons that, as director of the center, Hernandez is trying to build community and let students know the center is a safe space.
“We really want it to be a space that facilitates student needs,” says Hernandez.
Part of this facilitation advocacy, are the lactation rooms peppered throughout the UNLV campus. At first, the only lactation room was located in the Women’s Center, but once the service was known demand increased.
Hernandez pushed for the expansion of available breastfeeding and pumping services, growing the service to six lactation rooms around campus.
As a first-generation college graduate and a Rebel Alum Hernandez says she understands some of the difficulties students face, which helps her examine and work toward improving UNLV.
Hernandez says her Latina identity and heritage intersects with her feminism and allows her to see students as a whole people with multiple identities and multiple needs which she works to fulfill.
“That feminist lens really gave me what I needed to be true to myself and true to my ancestors,” says Hernandez.
Intersectionality is something she trains her advocates to identify so they can best serve individual students, and treat them holistically.
As passionate as she is now, Hernandez’s path didn’t start with women’s advocacy. She had always wanted to work with children.
“My first job was at KidsQuest,” Hernandez laughs.
She stayed on that path for about five years, until she enrolled at UNLV. After participating in research projects as a psychology undergrad Hernandez knew she had to change her path.
“I worked with a doctoral student who was doing her dissertation on post-traumatic stress disorder with children and adolescents who had been sextually abused and through that came my interest in working with survivors,” says Hernandez. “I really saw the resilience that these young people had.”
Hernandez says she was moved by the strength of survivors of violence and wanted to do what she could to help them toward healing.
Under her watch, the Women’s Center has expanded its anti-violence programs.
Having established the 24/7 peer hotline UNLV Care Line, which helps victims of rape, relationship violence and stalking, Hernandez has worked tirelessly to serve students needs.
One of the biggest roles of the center is in house advisory services. She has built a network of advocates to listen to and help students who are victims of violence.
“It’s that peer-to-peer interaction we want to facilitate,” says Hernandez. “We found that a lot of times students feel more comfortable talking to their peers.”
In the fall of 2015 Hernandez was elected to the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence Council. She says working on the council is a lot of work, but ultimately rewarding.
“[Nevada] is still at the top of the list for domestic violence homicide,” says Hernandez. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”
One of Hernandez greatest joys is watching the growth of students throughout their time at the center.
“Slowly but surely they begin to find their feminism or their activism,” says Hernandez. “It grows within them and they become someone completely different from how they started.”
Leaning on her chin, her wedding ring poking at her cheek, Hernandez admits the journey her students go through is much like her own.
“She is so amazing. She’s very inspirational, obviously,” says CARE Advocate Holly Ramella.
Hernandez always listens to student’s feedback and is very supportive of all ideas brought into the center.
When university faculty expressed concern over the title of the CARE Advocates “No Shame Slut Walk” event Hernandez supported the students concept and helped disseminate the situation, says Ramella.
In 2012 Hernandez was awarded Administrative Faculty Member of the Year. Ramella says Hernandez always makes sure to check in on staff and encourages self care.
Ramella recalls a time she was struggling over a practice plan for a research methods class when Hernandez personally advised her despite her busy schedule.
“She spends time with her family and really puts that equal to her work, but is able to get so much done and still be open to so many people,” says Ramella. “Yeah, I don’t know how she works that.”
Hernandez has brought over $1 million in grant money to the center. She is constantly bringing in grants to move the center forward. The grants Hernandez brings in have allowed students like Ramella to attend conferences, improving their advocacy and helping them grow.
One of the grants, the STOP grant, will fund a CARE advocate whose job will be specifically dedicated to working with the LGBTQ community. The grant will also help to increase access to services for LGBTQ students, which Hernandez will be working on this summer. Being queer herself, Hernandez says these services are vital to building a welcoming community for LGBTQ students at UNLV.
“There’s things we need to put together so we are better able to serve transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.”
She hopes to decrease the perceived barrier that services at the center are only for women or female identified students.
“Our center, despite being called the Women’s Center, is a center for all genders,” says Hernandez.
Hernandez is a powerful advocate for the LGBTQ community outside of UNLV as well. She is a founding member of the Queer Anti-Violence Project which is partnered with Gender Justice Nevada. Having noticed a lack of services for people who identify as queer, Hernandez worked to form an organization dedicated to an underserved community.
Staff members of the center say Hernandez is very open and often talks about her children. She makes the office feel like a family.
“The fun thing for me is seeing the baby pictures,” says Associate Vice President for Student Wellness, Jamie Davidson. “Her kids are so cute, it’s amazing.”
“She is definitely a unique fun person,” says Davidson.
Davidson says Hernandez has been a great advocate of underrepresented populations on campus, something that was in need.
One of the programs Hernandez has been instrumental in developing at UNLV is the Green Dot project, an anti-violence bystander intervention campaign and training. Davidson says she proposed the idea and he jumped on it.
“What I love about these programs is it’s really empowering students and teaching them how to respond,” says Davidson.
Hernandez brought in over $20,000 in grant money from The Nevada State Health Division which goes to funding the Green Dot program staff.
“She’s been very productive,” says Davidson.
Hernandez says her children are at an age now where they are fighting for their independence and finding their voice, but she doesn’t mind even in double the dose.
“You survive how you can with whatever you’re given,” says Hernandez, leaning back in her chair.
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