This week, we’re introducing our newest project highlighting our collaborations with identity centers on campus. To kick off the project, we interviewed our very own Julio Reyes (he/him/his) and Renata Mauriz (she/her/hers). Reyes ’12 is the Program Director of the U-FLi Center & Mauriz ’17 is the Student Success Coordinator and works closely with the FLi Students Program (FLiSP). Read more below:

How are you? How’s your year going so far?
J: I’m doing well. I’m a little sick. It’s the end of September. I think a lot of students have been sick recently but I’m feeling good about the year ahead and all the things we’re going to be doing.

R: I’m doing well. I’m proud to have managed to not have gotten sick throughout September when everyone around me was on Vitamin C on a daily basis. I’m a little sad it’s 50 degrees today but I’m hoping my light lamp will lift up my mood.

Jumping right in, can you talk about the equity-asset-based approach and how that ties into the programming at the center?
J: An equity-asset based approach, or EAB, is doing multiple things simultaneously. I think it’s understanding that there are systemic issues and problems that impact a students ability to be here at Brown or succeed academically. It’s acknowledging the systems of oppression students might be confronting. The asset based piece says, yes we have a systemic analysis, but we also understand that regardless or maybe in spite of those challenges, students come to Brown with different strengths and values that make them stand out and help them navigate the institution. It’s what happens, unfortunately, at private elite institutions like the one we’re at right now. Some of those values U-FLi students might have aren’t normalized in our current culture. Our work is to make sure we’re helping students really understand what those strength are and helping them map that onto how they navigate Brown. 

R: And the equity aspect of this also comes in thinking about, we’re not saying things are not going to be hard, or that there are no barriers to access or to success in our community. We’re acknowledging that there are, both outside the institution as larger systems like the immigration system, the economic system, and in the institution. So we’re saying let’s work with administrators to assess what those barriers are on a more systemic level instead of creating band-aid solutions.

How do you see the programming at the UFLi center in conversation with the programming of other identity centers? How have past collaborations come about?
R: Part of shifting away from doing our programming as a center individually has been really critically thinking about the experiences students hold and the identities they bring once they enter Brown through an intersectional lens. A student may come into Brown, maybe queer, maybe low-income, maybe first-gen, maybe a person of color — why should our programming not reflect that intersectionality with their identities and experiences?

J: I think by having us think very intentionally about the concept of intersectionality, but also intersectional identities, we understand that people come with different experiences and backgrounds but also understand the ways in which oppression underlies all of that. I think it’s been important for us to look at how we’re providing avenues or platforms for people who sit at the margins of communities. So you’ll notice that a lot of our programming does center queer and trans people of color. Not always, but that’s where we’re focusing our work right now. We’re making sure we’re highlighting different experiences and the work of different people who are doing interesting things, either at Brown or elsewhere. Then we also have the opportunity to collaborate with other centers that have similar social justice values that we do and want to work really intentionally on these projects.

R: It all starts with relationships as well. Julio and I try to be very intentional about actually getting to know other staff that we’re collaborating with and even ask does this idea feel good for us to do as a team? Not necessarily doing something because we feel like we have to but doing something that’s also thinking about ourselves and what we’re bringing but also what we’re taking from an experience together.

What are you hoping to see in this year’s programming?
J: We have ideas. We haven’t necessarily sat down and determined exactly what we’re going to do and who we’re going to invite. We’re really thinking about issues related to class, but also things that impact immigrant communities. We want to do it in a way that also centers the idea of creation. What are people having to create due to whatever circumstances they’re living in? I think that really does speak to an EAB approach. Yes, there are systemic issues in the problem but there are people in the world that fall within particular identities that we work with under the U-FLi center that are cultivating communities or creating new programs or creating new initiatives or creating things as artists that are counter to some of these trauma narratives we’re so used to hearing about working class immigrant communities. That’s kind of what we want to focus on this year.

R: I think starting with the three DJs that we brought to campus was a way for us to think about the folks sitting at the margins in specific industries as well. We invited them not necessarily for them to speak about their experiences as queer undocumented women of color, but for them to speak about how have they, despite of all of the lack of access to opportunities, how have they created the spaces and the opportunities and the work that enables them to thrive through a creative lens. It’s putting out there different forms of resistance and different ways of being in relationship with one another and creating and working that are conducive to the type of world we want to live in.

Something you’re looking forward to?
J: I’m looking forward to connecting with more students and seeing the center grow. By that I mean the amount of engagement we see with students. We’ve already seen an increase just this past month but I’m excited to see where we go with that, how we can connect with more first year students and get to know them, and hearing what students might want and need from the center.

R: Similarly to Julio, I do look forward to continuing to cultivate genuine relationships with students and being someone who I wish I had a relationship with when I was a student. In a lot of ways I’ve been able to do a 360. As I was a student struggling at some point in this university, now I have an opportunity to be on the other side of things and be a system of support, not just in times of crises but also in times of joy and celebration. So I’m looking forward to creating more spaces for joy among our student population like our block party. I’m looking forward to taking over more spaces where I see laughter and see community happening in real time.