When Shirena Trujillo Long started 15 years ago as the coordinator of El Centro de Muchos Colores at Fort Lewis College, she was tasked with helping to recruit and retain Hispanic students, an enormous job for a small center.
Along the way, Trujillo Long helped many students discover and embrace their cultural identities, sharing similar lessons and experiences she had at the center as a student, she said.
“I love people and cultures and identity and helping people understand them better,” she said.
Trujillo Long left El Centro at the end of December, but she plans to continue working on equity and inclusion goals as the director of diversity recruitment for Conservation Legacy, a national organization for the nonprofit focused on conservation service projects. Trujillo Long plans to work out of the nonprofit’s Durango offices.
FLC student and an El Centro student manager Cristal Revilla Serrano said Trujillo Long will be missed at El Centro, which serves as a “home away from home” for Hispanic and multicultural students on campus.
“She brought a lot of passion and love for what she does. ... She just spoke her mind and made everyone feel at home,” she said.
El Centro helped Revilla Serrano make friends and feel more comfortable at FLC after graduating from a predominately Hispanic high school in Carbondale.
“I can always find someone to talk to there,” she said.
In addition to a space for Hispanic students to gather, El Centro organizes cultural events, maintains a gallery, provides Spanish tutoring and runs a dance program open to the community, among other activities.
When Trujillo Long started at FLC in 1996, she was well aware of her white and Hispanic background – her mother is German and Scottish, and her father is Mexican American. However, the center helped her explore the history of Mexican Americans and embrace her Chicana identity. While in school, she helped found the Spanish club and spent time cooking with El Centro.
“El Centro was a great space for me to explore that cultural identity,” she said.
When she graduated in 2000 with a degree in Spanish and English/communications, she went to work as a newspaper reporter and loved covering immigration issues and telling the stories of undocumented immigrants, saying she cared deeply about communities of color and disenfranchised populations.
When she decided to go back to FLC to start a career in higher education, she felt it would be an opportunity to be more of a mentor, ally and advocate, particularly to students of color, she said.
The opportunity to be the first paid coordinator at El Centro in 2005 offered her that chance and also the challenge of recruiting and retaining Hispanic and multicultural students and helping them have a more visible presence on campus.
After two years on the job, she started a bias-awareness training program to try to improve culture on campus, which falls in line with El Centro’s mission to educate others about multiculturalism. The bias-awareness training is now known as Common Ground.
“The idea came from wanting a team or a network of people who would be able to confront discrimination on campus,” she said.
While at the college, Trujillo Long has seen the percentage of students of color exceed 50% of enrollment, which has changed the culture on campus.
“People don’t compare their pain quite as much. ... Rather, it’s coming together in our shared oppressions for a common good, and that’s something that I see a lot more,” she said.
For example, in 2008, students started organizing the Real History of the Americas Day, an annual event to showcase some of the experiences of disenfranchised Americans, such as the experiences of Japanese Americans in World War II internment camps, she said.
One of Trujillo Long’s colleagues, Nancy Stoffer, said the Trujillo Long was “always the one with the bullhorn” at FLC events, highlighting diversity on campus such as Martin Luther King Day or helping to organize activities and encouraging students to participate.
Trujillo Long also brought skills as a facilitator of group discussions to her position, allowing student participants to learn from each other, ensure that everyone has a chance to speak and observe how speech can affect other members of a group.
“She really loves the work,” Stoffer said, “and that passion is felt.”