Mentha Hynes-Wilson describes herself as someone who fights for the unexpected and is unafraid to get into the thick of it while doing so, she’s done it her whole life.
Wilson grew up in Vallejo, a small working-class town close to San Francisco. Describing her experience, she had this to say, “Vallejo was in the shadow of San Francisco, people in Vallelee didn’t think they could go off and do really great things. So we were the underdogs and we developed a kinda gritty personality.”
This experience only prepared her for her time at UWT, “ . . . that’s what I see here in Tacoma and so I feel, and in a positive way, not as a deficit. But I feel very much at home.” Wilson sees herself as someone fighting for those people who feel like they don’t have an opportunity. Who feel overwhelmed and overshadowed.
“As I reflect on my career in higher ed., it’s always been about opening the doors for opportunities. Sometimes kicking open those doors. Eliminating fear. I think I do it quite well. And I recognize that someone had to kick open those doors for me. So this is my way of giving back and paying forward. And I’m so grateful and fortunate that I enjoy the work that I do,” Wilson explained.
Wilson opened up about her struggles and described herself as “ . . . a sassy undergraduate student,” going on to say, “I had a good instinct, I had horrible tests, I had bad discipline in studying. I was also an independent student, meaning I chose not to take advantage of the support services in place. I thought asking for help was negative, and that the mature and enlightened student figured it out on their own.”
Wilson discussed a specific memory from a semester in which she overloaded her schedule with Organic Chemistry, Cell Physiology and Microbiology.
“I was in the library studying for an organic chemistry exam and the concepts were just not making any sense to me. I read it over and over again,” Wilson described. “I looked at the images and had a 3d model and was putting it together. But it just did not compute. I could not absorb that language. And I slowly started crying. And that slow cry became a fast cry. And I just totally melted down.”
After this, she quickly made her way to what at her university would be the equivalent of Academic Advising, the Center for Equity and Inclusion and First Gen fellows combined into one.
“I wasn’t one of their [students], but one of their counselors was available to see me. Cloteal Issacs. Cloteal took me into her office, there was no judgment,” Wilson said. “She let me cry. I explained the situation to her. And she said these words to me that have stayed with me for some 20 odd years, ‘Baby, you simply need to be connected. You’re trying to do all these things on your own and what you need to be is connected’.”
When asked what advice she had for students, this is what she suggested:
“ . . . it’s okay to ask for help. It’s really okay to ask for help. Some of your greatest failures in these phenomenal successes. Had I not stumbled into EOP I would not have known there was a whole nother career path for me. Probably would not have found my calling.”