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Remembering the teachers who touched our lives

May 1, 2017

Prior to starting my graduate program, I had never honestly asked myself “Who am I?” Nor did I even stop to listen to the quiet voice inside me, let alone know it existed. It wasn't until I entered grad school at the University of Kansas that I had individuals who took the time to challenge me to stop and listen, to question what I have been told and to critically examine the narratives I had been sold — individuals who not only challenged me, but supported me as my little voice started to whisper the answer to, “Do you know who you are?”

When I first stepped into the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) at KU, I had no idea how much it would change my life, how it would give me life, how it would allow me to truly start and live my life. The OMA was not only the catalyst to ask myself who I am, but it was also a second home — a place where I could be, whoever and whatever I was, what I knew and what I had yet discover. The space and environment that Precious Porras, Cody K. Charles, Mauricio Gomez, and Camille Clark were able to, and still create, is truly beautiful and one that I aim to build wherever I am.

Looking back at my time with the OMA, I can’t really pinpoint the event or the words that made it feel like home. I think it naturally happened because it was one of the few spaces, if not the only space, that had multiple people of color in positions of staff leadership. Not only were there people of color in positions of administrative leadership; they were unapologetically their full, authentic selves. There was laughter, shade, challenging each other, holding each other accountable, deep conversations on real topics, love, support, celebration and community. Seeing these beautiful people who looked like me, looked like my cousins, looked like my family, valiantly be themselves has influenced me in more ways than I have ever been influenced in my life.

Thanks to the guidance and possibility modeling by the OMA staff, I was able to learn about the many intersecting identities that makes the beautiful mess that is me. Being at KU, a predominantly white institution, showed me the need to critically examine issues of race and how it affects me as a person of color. The OMA also taught me to critically examine the narratives that have been taught to me on gender, sexuality, sex, ability, privilege and oppression. I have learned about myself. I learned to accept that I am a queer person. I have learned to love myself because I am a queer person. I have learned about the social, economic and legal systems in place that affect me, my family, my friends, my fellow humans. I have learned to speak on what I learn. To challenge these systems. To fight for myself and for my fellow humans.

“Do you know who you are?” Who am I? I am a Person of Color. I am Latino. I am a person trying to connect with my Asian heritage. I am a Queer Person of Color. I am a very big, dorky and proud nerd. I am a pioneer. I am resilient. I am excellent. Although I am 28 years old, I feel as if I really am 4 years old because prior to meeting the beautiful people of the OMA, I wasn’t living my truth. I will forever carry the people of OMA and the lessons they taught me. I keep what I have learned and use it to guide me when teaching and working with others. For they taught me to believe in who I am, to listen, cherish and use my voice. That regardless of what obstacles come before me, I am everything I’ve learned and more. That I matter. That I am valued. That I am seen. That I am Jorge. —Jorge Sierra

Jorge Sierra received his master’s degree in higher education administration in May 2014. After graduating from KU, he spent a year teaching Kindergarten–9th grade English in Kurotaki-mura, Japan, through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. He then served as a senior coordinator for the multicultural services and programs department at the University of Georgia. He is currently an area coordinator with the Department of Residential Life at San Francisco State University.

*Feature story from the Jayhawk Educator, Spring/Summer 2017 edition. Read full version here.

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