Can you introduce yourself and tell us what organizations you are a part of on campus?
I am Quetzabel Benavides. I am involved with the Student Assembly. I serve as a senator, and I’m also chair of our outreach committee. I am involved in SIA, which is Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada, currently the only Latina sorority on campus. Currently my role there is the academic chairwoman and social chairwoman. Finally, I’m involved with MANOS, which is Medical Aid in Nicaragua, Outreach Scholarship, which is essentially a research group that tries to provide a sociological perspective to improving health and community the Nicaragua.
Do you feel like you belong in the organizations that you are a part of? Why are you in them?
I hold different roles in each organization. Definitely [in the case of] SIA it would be very difficult for me to say no, because it’s something that myself and eight other women initiated. I think it is for us a way to create a space for myself as well as other women that either have Latina background or are interested in the culture, and so I think that’s definitely a place where I love being around. In terms of MANOS, it’s one of my favorite places just because I’m able to develop my professional and research skills, so I’m seen as a researcher. But at the same time, because we do have auxiliary trips, during which we do what we have to do, it’s also very nice to meet with different people with different perspectives, to understand where they come from. I always felt very comfortable there, and I’m always having a good time. In senate, I think it’s a little bit different because different people have different years being in senate, so it can be a little bit intimidating initially, because you don’t know how meetings are run, who to ask for help, [or how to] take initiative for things. I think I definitely feel comfortable there now but I can’t say I didn’t have a harder time there initially.
Is there a disconnect between how you identify yourself and how others identify you?
I think the biggest difference is that a lot of people I’ve met for the first time would tell me that they found me very intimidating or very intense. It’s really funny because once I establish a friendship with someone I think people come to realize that I’m very much a goofball. I’m very committed and passionate, which is why it seems like I’m an intense person, because I am involved in so many things and my mind is going at a hundred per minute: “I have to go to this meeting, then I have to go do this, then I have to send this email.” So sometimes I would be so focused on what I have to do, and it’ll come across as cold. That’s probably the biggest difference in my identification and how others identify me initially, but once I get to know people that’s disrupted.
Do you feel like you are a part of the Tribe?
After four years I definitely feel like I am part of the Tribe, but I think it’s more because of the friendships that I’ve established. As a freshman I was part of Sharpe, so it was providing me with a community of individuals that thought in the same way and were more caring about the community, so I had a very good introduction. With my involvements I’ve been able to be part of something. However, I think as a minority student sometimes that does become a little difficult. As I mentioned, as a Latina student, I’m not easily able to identify other Latina students, or to say, “Oh, these are the people that I can go to to make jokes about this, because they will understand it.” That’s what I really appreciated about other cultural organizations on campus, that you can see the sense of unity and solidarity in them; you can see the sense of identity that sometime I’m not able to have, probably because my population is a little bit smaller. But overall I feel very comfortable and I’ve been able to establish both friendships, social relationships, and professional relationships where I’ve been able to navigate my time here.
Do you feel like your identity is valued by our community?
It depends on the setting that I find myself in. Whenever it comes to more of the professional or leadership experiences I definitely feel like my identity is valued. I think people do understand I am a person who is passionate and cares. For example, MANOS is probably one of those places where I was neither seen as an underclassman or somebody that just speaks Spanish. I was seen as a very holistic person, which is something that I enjoyed. But I think in other spaces that can be more difficult. Whenever we are talking about how we could, for example, improve the racial climate on campus, it’s a little bit more difficult. I don’t think sometimes students understand that, for me personally as a minority student, you are not just a student on this campus, you also become an activist, and so time which you could probably spend doing your activities or homework is also spent thinking about how I can leverage my leadership experiences and positions, or use my connections with the administration, such that future generations can feel comfortable in a way that probably I wasn’t. That’s why I would say that sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s valued, because some students don’t understand that, for those who don’t have professors that look like them, it’s sometimes a little difficult to even have the courage to speak to the professor or seek certain opportunities. Like I said, overall I think people do appreciate my background and my story, but I don’t think they realize the difficulty sometimes for students to navigate and truly thrive in an environment where their history isn’t recognized or even highlighted. I think a lot of people would agree, just looking at statues around campus. That’s where I don’t feel that my identity would be valued.
Is there a space for your identity on this campus?
Yeah, I think it’s in the places that I’ve found and I think it speaks to different facets of what I care about. So, in terms of trying to expand that awareness of Latino culture and what it means to be a Latina. A lot of people when they look at our Greek organization, they automatically think, “Do I have to be Latina?” or “Do I have to speak Spanish?” One of the things that I love about our chapter is that not all of us have a Latina background. Not all of us speak Spanish. Some of us, you know, through joining this and becoming a sister, started to identify other aspects of their heritage. And I think that’s something that is very awesome because you don’t just have to come from Latin America. We have one member who is Egyptian and Puerto Rican, and I think that’s a great intersection. One of my line sisters was completely white, no Latino background, but she has a love for the culture. And I think that’s something that I’ve liked and I loved to explore, and sort of share that with other people.
And MANOS – One of the things I am very passionate about is to prevent domestic violence. And so I’ve always been trying to find a way to sort of seek out what my career options would be, and through MANOS, I’ve been able to meet such great individuals and listen to different perspectives. Some people come from a biological perspective and they will look at that, and other people very sociological perspectives, and look at that. So with all of them, I’ve been able to bounce a lot of ideas, and I’ve been able to take lessons that they all bring and begin to think how I will apply whatever I’ve learned in MANOS to my own personal goal, which is to engage in domestic violence prevention. So that’s just always been great. I feel like I can be articulate in a subject, and that’s very exciting.
And in student assembly – It’s provided me with the opportunity to move beyond just working with students and begin working between students and administration. So, for students that don’t feel that they have an identity on campus, being able to be the person that can direct the students, [for example] “Well, how about speaking with someone from the center for student diversity?” or with organizations that sometimes don’t cross collaborate being able to say, “Hey, student assembly may be able to help you with this.” And being able to see how those organizations can thrive, I think that’s where I thought my place in student assembly was. Just being a student assembly senator you are a representative. And I think it’s using that platform that you have to really allow other students’ concerns to be shared with the rest of my peers in the senate, but also to the administrators on campus.
How do you see your relationship with the College after you graduate?
I’m very excited to soon become an alum, and I have all the confidence that I will be a very engaged person with the college. I think one of the things I have found that is that even though I didn’t have perhaps the best platform of diversity while I was here or maybe I wasn’t able to find a place where I can see my identity so prevalent, I want that to be an experience for other students. I want other students, whether it’s a first generation college student or whether it’s a student that comes from a background of immigrants, whether it’s a, you know, female students, or it’s someone that has the same passion as me, I want them to feel like they know where to go for them to really push forward with those desires. And so, I think in the future something that I would love to be engaged with is trying to see how we can have a better collective identity of like the Latino community on campus, I think that would be great. And personally for me, I know that one of the biggest reasons why I came to William & Mary is because I was provided with such good, you know, financial assistance. I would have never come here as an out-of-state student. Without the help, I wouldn’t have been able to be engaged in all of these different capacities, and that’s something that I would want to provide other students. I’m excited to both, out of financial capacity, but also in terms of like a mentorship relationship for other students that would either find themselves in the same situation and want to know how to not, so that they can feel that they are part of William & Mary and to also find ways that by them finding spaces for their identity, they can also begin creating what is a holistic, you know, “One tribe, one family.”
Is there anything else would you like to say?
I think the biggest thing would just be that – Oftentimes, I think, that when we do engage in different topics whether it be inclusion, diversity, or anything else, is that we often forget to speak to the people that are not at the table or are sort of not providing any opinion. I think we tend to glance over – say, for example, we launch out a survey that says, “Please give us your opinions on diversity.” I think we never go to step two, which is to identify why certain students aren’t engaged. And I think that’s crucial because it can also shift the questions. I know a lot of times one of the questions with diversity and inclusion is, “How do we engage students that don’t want to be engaged?” And I have seen in the last couple of months that sometimes the students that are not involved, it’s not that they don’t want to be involved, it’s just that they don’t feel that they have the tools necessary to engage in that dialogue. And so I think once you start finding out why are people not engaged, why do people not participate? You know, you have to also understand their obstacles to be able to bring them into that conversation because the question isn’t a matter of whether or not they care. Maybe they do care, they just don’t know how to. Then you can shift it so that they can begin becoming involved. I think, we have to do a better job of defining what inclusivity means on this campus, and that means not just talking to the people who are involved, but also try to understand why the people aren’t involved aren’t, so that every single person has a sense of ownership on, sort of, the initiatives that are going to carry out our campus to be a much better environment for everyone.