Natalie Gutierrez is a senior history student who serves on the Minority-Serving Institution Student Council. Here, she describes her experience navigating UNLV, helping others after a difficult year, studying new languages, and taking up textile work.
Tell us about yourself.
First and foremost, I am Mexicana. My parents are both immigrants who came to Las Vegas from Sonora and Sinaloa, and Nayarit. I am a first-generation college student, raised in Las Vegas, living in between many cultures and identities. I am finding myself through spiritual bruja practice, and something very important to me that has come up with my practice is pacifism.
My family and I live with our dog Cortez, a Xoloitzcuintle-Shar Pei. I have spent about three years working on my bachelor’s degree in history with concentrations in East Asia and Latin America, and my minor in classical studies.
Throughout this time, I have also worked on expanding my linguistic skills, so I practice my Spanish and English, which are the languages I speak at home, in new contexts. I have also done extensive work in Latin related to my minor. I am teaching myself Portuguese and taking lessons in Hindi.
At The Intersection, I initially was a mentee advised on many academic and personal issues. Later, I took on the role of working alongside the mentors crafting presentations for new students and working on some levels of defining the TiPS Peer Partnership Program. I am also on the Minority-Serving Institution Student Council.
What does the council mean to you?
The council is a place where my lens and perspective are expanded, and my experiences are vocalized. I can put my visions of a more accessible higher education opportunity into action. The student council is relatively new, going into its second year, but the work that members do is hugely impactful. Getting to be personally involved or close to the process of taking an idea into action, especially when it’s intended to address the under-represented and under-served communities at UNLV, has been an eye-opening experience.
Who or what inspires you?
My community, the places and people from which I come provide comfort and inspiration. Their hard work has opened up opportunities for me. Now, I feel a responsibility to make space in higher education and environments that have and often continue to exclude many identities and communities from success.
How do you see yourself within UNLV?
As a senior at UNLV, I have held many roles and moved through so many situations that over time I realized are not so unique. I struggled in some of these roles and I thrived in others. I found guidance and support from people who shared many of the same experiences or who had overcome many of the challenges I was facing. I would like to think that because of my strong connections and networks, I can now contribute to these support networks for new UNLV students.
What are your projects with the council?
Back on Track, my initial project, emerged from conversations related to academic probation. This topic often lacks interconnected support from the broader UNLV community. Back on Track is supportive programming for students on academic probation, with a focus on first-year students from 2020-2021, who had to transition from remote to in-person instruction, and dealt with the resulting instability.
With the help of guest speakers, academic advisors, and staff, the project became a three-day workshop where students who may have been disconnected from UNLV were presented with skills they can develop to support themselves, and introduced them to the campus partners students might need to address issues affecting their academic success. These issues included financial insecurity, home and/or food insecurity, mental health services, medical care, the need for accommodations in classes and UNLV spaces.
My second project is a spotlight series about connecting UNLV to Las Vegas, presented on KUNV with the podcast, “Let’s Talk UNLV.” The series introduces UNLV students to spaces that connect to the Las Vegas community and beyond. With diversity and consciousness about the importance of inclusion, these organizations directly connect to the council's mission. This fall, the program will feature two community organizations that have used activism, culture, and community organization to connect with Las Vegas and UNLV students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
What was your motivation or vision for these projects?
Watching people in school as they try, learn, and get ahead in the life they envision for themselves. My motivation is to see people living fulfilling, content lives, whatever that means to them. And the projects I put forth as part of the council are my contribution to hopefully making somebody’s experience at UNLV just a bit smoother than mine, and inspiring others to do the same.
What are personal nurturing practices that help you feel stabilized?
I have picked up a lot of different hobbies. The one I have worked with the longest is textile work like crochet, embroidery, mending, fabric dyes, and sewing. This has let me help my family out to be more sustainable and to bond with traditions my elders and ancestors have practiced. That aspect of my meditation practice has helped me stabilize. I read poetry books, mostly in Spanish and Portuguese, to rest from all the school stuff in English. My other hobby would be cooking and baking, which has been really fun and interesting for my family as I explore different ideas and cuisines.
How have you stayed motivated during the last year and a half?
Recharging with loved ones followed by extensive planning and organizing my physical and mental spaces. Knowing the value of the things I have been doing, from educating myself on current events to the work I have done through The Intersection and the council has been motivational and purposeful. This work is important to me not only because the projects were based on something I feel is necessary, but because I can see the positive outcomes and the communities we can build through those processes.