Meet Stacey Fernandez, a senior in the Social Welfare program who is very active around campus. From working on-campus in the Center for Student Involvement and being the president of the Student Social Work Organization, to actively promoting campus resources like The Pantry, to spending her off-campus time volunteering for different organizations, Fernandez is constantly interacting with the UW Tacoma community.
You can find Fernandez working with several organizations. She currently serves as the president of Student Social Work Organization, is a member of Phi Alpha Honor Society, worked on the Campus Climate Survey group — which she believes is important for students and for the campus as a whole to participate in. Fernandez also works an internship with Catherine Place, a Tacoma-based organization which serves individuals who have experienced domestic violence and offers resources, one-on-one conversations and support groups.
Fernandez grew up and lived most of her life in Southern California. After graduating from high school, Fernandez spent several years in and out of higher education. Eventually, she was invited to Washington by some very close friends. She took that opportunity as a chance to start a new life with a fresh slate, where she could pursue a career to work with and help people, especially those in marginalized groups, overcome their own obstacles in life.
“When I toured this campus, I just thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is it,’” Fernandez said. “It’s small. I really liked the classrooms. And, so, even though I was also accepted to [UW] Seattle, I chose Tacoma because it was smaller, and I just felt like I could get to know people.”
It is her own storied past which motives Fernandez to want to help others. After having received her Associates Degree from Olympic College, her first year at UWT was beset by obstacles in the forms of bullying, racism and retaliation.
“I had really terrible experiences last school year, so my first school year as a junior,” Fernandez said. “Horrendous. To where I wanted to leave. It was more than wanting to leave. I experienced retaliation from an instructor. Bullying. Very cruel things … I brought forward concerns, and I was retaliated against.”
However, Fernandez found help and support from several groups and individuals around the campus. She first found help through the Latinx Student Union. She talked to two of the organization’s leadership, who then suggested talking to Dr. James McShay, Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion. Fernandez also found comfort and support from people such as the Director of Campus Security Susan Wagshul-Golden, Associate Professor Dr. Diedre Raynor and Adjunct Professor Dr. Marian Harris.
With all of the support from these groups and individuals, Fernandez was not only able to move forward, but also helped to shape how she wants to proceed forward with her life.
“So my involvement in things kind of stem from that,” stated Fernandez. “I want to tell all of these students, ‘Here are these resources that are available for you. Here are the things that are in place to help you succeed.’ Which is why I sought out a position to work, you know, in a student position … I wanted to have a position where I could be of service to all of the other students, but also to advocate for them.”
Fernandez explained that one way for her to heal is to help spread the word about her experiences and let everyone know that there are solutions to the problems they face. From this experience, it has inspired Fernandez to switch her sights post-graduation from social welfare to student affairs. She stated that she wants to be the kind of support system which helped her to other students so they might succeed and earn their degree.
Right now, Fernandez is looking at three graduate programs for student affairs — one at Eastern Illinois University, one at Western Illinois University and one at Iowa State University. Fernandez says that she loves living in Washington, but that she is more than willing to do what she needs to in order to help fulfill her goal of helping others.
“My goal in life is to help people with dignity, kindness and respect,” said Fernandez. “Definitely.”
Fernandez has volunteered at a men’s homeless shelter where she cooked food. She has also volunteered with end-of-life programs, where she has been there for terminally ill patients, typically those suffering from cancer, by being by their side, talking to them, holding their hand and providing company as they pass.
For a lasting message to fellow students, Fernandez had this to say:
“You need to be your biggest advocate, and you deserve the best. Don’t let anybody else make you feel like you don’t deserve that.”
UWT offers many resources for students, faculty and staff facing problems of bullying and harassment, to learn more about and how to file a bias incident report, visit: tacoma.uw.edu/reportbias