Staff Interview

Alejandro Covarrubias

Written by Marisela Esparza

alejandroME:Where are you originally from and what brought you to San Francisco? What attracted you to the University of San Francisco?

AC: I grew up in Oxnard, California and all my family still lives there: I have an older brother, a younger sister and my parents and their families grew up next to each other. So, to be from Oxfam is really big for me, because of all my family on my dad’s side—thirty some cousins—only five of us live outside of Oxfam. I did my undergrad at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and from there I did the Jesuit volunteer core for a year at a homeless shelter in Sacramento. Then I moved to Loyola Maryland, but I didn’t like that program, so I switched and got my Masters in Student Affairs at Colorado State, Fort Collins. My first professional job was at Santa Clara University as a Hall Director (so it’s a lot of Jesuit schools!). From there, I wanted to branch out and start doing more work with Multicultural Affairs and work in the Intercultural Center. I really wanted to do work in that field, so I left Santa Clara University and started working at the University of Denver in their Center for Multicultural Excellence. I really missed California and the Bay Area, then this job at USF came up, so I decided to apply for it. I think USF is a really good fit because Jesuit education is really important for me—it has really formed me in a lot of ways and made me really passionate about social justice. For me, my spirituality is tied to my passion for social justice and vice versa. Social justice fuels my spirituality because I believe we are all created by the divine spirit and that God created us equally, but the way that we live in the world, we don’t treat each other equally. So, part of me living out my spirituality is fighting for equality.

ME:What does your position entail and what is your favorite part about it so far?

AC: I am the Assistant Director for the Intercultural Center (IC) and the Gender and Sexualities Center (GSC). A big part of my job is supervising all the student staff such as IC interns, and GSC applicants. They are all undergraduate students, so it’s about working with them, helping them plan programs in order to keep the program going. What I love about my job is that I go in to the Center on any given day and we’re talking about some sort of issue. These last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about Treyvon Martin in Florida (who was killed for wearing a black hoodie and for basically being a young black man in a gated neighborhood) and what does that mean around racism and racial issues. We’ll come in and talk about the LGBTQ community or we’ll talk about women’s issues or about masculinity or white privilege. I also coordinate the “Allies Program,” which is our LGBTQ allies workshop offered at least once a month during the Spring semester. It’s a three-hour program, and while I’ve helped develop the curriculum, it is really the committee who puts it together in collaboration with CAPS, SHARES and the GSC staff. I am on the “Men and Masculinity Committee” where we are planning programs around helping men explore their gender identity and what it means to be a man at USF, but also in the world. We actually piloted a program through the Conduct System this year and we had seven men participate. It was really cool to see them grow and engage in conversation around what it means to be a good man and make good decisions. I also facilitate classroom discussions whenever a professor needs me to come in—I’ve presented on gender, race, and international student issues in order to help by giving students some skills and tools to talk about race in a way that makes sense in the classroom. I also advise the Culturally Focused Clubs Council and that’s my favorite part of the job, because I’m in that space with student leaders and it’s mostly students of color, some white students, and a mix of genders and sexual orientations. The thing I like about USF is that it has a diverse group of students, but the commonalities are that they are student leaders who are really passionate about what they do. These students are struggling to figure out “how do we do this?” and “can we do this?” “can we throw this kind of program?” and when they really want to challenge this policy or bring up this contention on the issue of homophobia or the issue of sexism within communities of color and they say “can we do that?” And I get to be the one who says “yes, you can!” by coaching and giving them the skills to empower themselves and feel like they can have these conversations. Like last night in the “Chisme y Comida” Program (in collaboration with the Chican@-Latin@ Studies Program) we talked about racism in the classroom. Twenty-five students showed up to talk about racism and how it manifests at USF. It’s an honor to be in that space and to listen to their stories and be an advocate for students. I have the responsibility to take what I am hearing from all the students to the faculty and my fellow staff members and say “look, this is happening on our campus.” We had food, but twenty-five students showed up on their own for two hours to talk about this issue because it’s important to them. And if it is important to our students, then we need the administration to listen and do something to make it better. I love that I get to be an advocate and ally for students on this campus. 

ME:What type of opportunities that you are involved with does the Intercultural Center and Gender and Sexuality Center offer for students to become involved in?

AC: Programs like “Dialogue for Change” are some of our longer programs, since it’s an eight week commitment. The students say they have found a safe space to talk about this stuff. So, at the IC and GSC we try to offer more than just programs, but a space for students to feel safe to talk about who they are on a very deep level. We also do things like “Lyricist Lounge” which is once a month open mic night in collaboration with WORD, our spoken word / song poetry team at USF. I am just blown away by the talent here at USF. I have been on this for two years, listening to some of the poetry because it’s not only really, really good, but the content is so powerful because more often than the not the content is about identity. There are people talking about their experiences of being immigrants, of having to rediscover their language, of being colonized; folks from Hawaii being colonized and having to find their culture again and their dance. Importantly, in the GSC we do a lot of sexual assault prevention and educational work. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, so at USF we have a Sexual Assault Awareness week and we do things like “Take Back the Night Rally,” which really tries to bring awareness and understanding of domestic and sexual violence to campus. We do the “Clothesline Project,” where students get a white t-shirt and write about themselves and their story about rape, or about someone they know. We don’t really talk about sexual assault and violence, so giving students and survivors on this campus an opportunity to tell their story in a way that is safe and empowers them to say “you know, this has happened to me, I want people to know about it and I don’t want to be silenced anymore.” We are also doing things to get folks to think about the ways in which they can reduce the of risk of being raped and this can possibly lead to my dream of true prevention by talking to men around issues of sexual assault and teaching them not to rape. It sounds bizarre, but statistically over 99% of sexual assault cases are caused by men. We can stop sexual assault by finding who’s doing it and teaching them not to rape. My approach is finding men who are willing to stand up to other men and say “that’s really not a good idea, man. That person’s kind of drunk, you shouldn’t go home with them” and really trying to intervene and say how we’re really better than that. 

ME:Can you describe your experience with the Latin@ community at USF?

AC: I think that my experience with the Latino community here at USF is growing. At Santa Clara, I worked at a Residence Hall and wasn’t connected to the Cultural Center. It just happened that I would hire lots of Latinos in my staff and I think they understood that I was an advocate for them. So people kind of just came in. But at USF I saw that I had to go out and find Latinos on campus because we’re here and we’re definitely around. So it was definitely more about how to stretch myself to find the Latino community. I’ve done this by connecting with different Latino Studies professors, but also with students in groups like LASO (Latin American Students Organization) and really working with them. Also, I think that attending events like “Día de la Mujer” is very important because it is amazing to see “Latinas Unidas” so organized and such a powerful group on campus. I don’t even think the campus sees how all these Latina women are organized, empowered, and just doing beautiful things and bringing in amazing speakers. I was so moved that night. I think it’s important for me to show up to those events. My job requires me to do certain things, but showing up to an event on Friday night, well that’s me wanting to be there because I want to be connected to the Latino/a community on campus, because it’s my community. And while my job requires it, I am committed to be a part of all communities like engaging in the Black and African community, engaging with the Filipino and Asian community and being really involved with them. At the same time, because I am a Chicano, I identify with the Latino community. I find safety in that and it feels like I am at home in that community. So far, I have really tried to push myself to become a better advocate for all students.