Ireri Rivas, Director of Student Support Services, nurtures a supportive environment to enhance personal, professional and social experiences of the UChicago FLI community members. She highlights the diversity of FLI students and encourages them to find spaces that support their endeavors.
Below are the highlights of our conversation:
Q. How did your affiliation with the First-generation, Lower-Income and Immigrant (FLI) community influence your choice of profession?
A. As a college student, I was acutely aware of my identity as an immigrant mostly because a lot of conversations around immigrant rights and legislation were taking place at the same time. I became an immigrant rights activist and helped organize one of the biggest pro-immigrant rallies in my city. Thousands of people came together to show their support, which was surprising in a rather conservative city.
During the next few years, new legislation continued to show signs of allyship from different communities. I saw the DREAM Act come up along with the idea of framing education as a path to citizenship. Life as an activist and a critical thinker led me to this space where I work very closely with FLI graduate students. In a way, my experience is coming full circle.
Q. What advice do you have for someone trying to navigate the social structures at the University of Chicago as a FLI student?
A. I think about this on a regular basis because our social lives are constantly evolving. Right now, I would tell students to advocate for themselves while remembering that there are tons of us cheering them on. You have to find a balance between putting yourself out there to make connections and recognizing that many people within your network will also network for you. It can be very challenging, especially if you are shy or afraid, like I was in college. Try to find overtly welcoming spaces like the FLI Network, where people have already signaled their shared experiences or allyship.
The more relationships you build throughout your career, the more you learn about different resources available to you. No single person is going to have all the answers. It is a continuous journey that you have to go on.
Q. What would you like UChicago affiliates to know about the FLI community?
A. The UChicago FLI community is extremely diverse and brings in many amazing experiences and skills. All of us do not necessarily fit a category or identify with all parts of “FLI”. I encourage everyone to take time and get to know the diversity of FLI members on campus. We should try to stay away from stereotypes or categories that reduce the diversity of backgrounds.
Q. What are you thankful or grateful for today?
A. On many days, the quarantine feels bizarre. I miss little things like having lunch with my colleagues or planning vacations with family. I am grateful for all my friends and family who have kept in touch during the pandemic. I feel connected with them because I know that they are only a call or Facetime away. I feel grateful for that.
Q. What has been your proudest moment so far?
A. Organizing the immigrant rights rally in college was definitely one of my proudest moments. I did not expect the magnitude of turnout or support that we got. One of the main intersections of the city was blocked and it was covered in the news for many days. It was also the first time in Nevada’s modern history when immigrants, their contributions and experiences were celebrated.