Pride Center program specialist strengthens community during distance learning

Alejandra Fernandez-Garcia has taken on their role to help students succeed academically and emotionally during the coronavirus pandemic

 Pride Center Program Specialist Alejandra Fernandez-Garcia has made sure that the center has remained operating during distance learning for students to build community and receive resources. (Photo courtesy of American River College)


Pride Center Program Specialist Alejandra Fernandez-Garcia has made sure that the center has remained operating during distance learning for students to build community and receive resources. (Photo courtesy of American River College)

Eliminating prejudice and barriers on campus and in life is the goal of Alejandra Fernandez-Garcia, the program specialist and co-coordinator of the American River College Pride Center.

“There’s so many voices that are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community that should be uplifted and listened to,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “I say this especially considering queer, trans, black, indigenous people of color, and making sure we are listening to all of the voices across the LGBTQIA+ community and not just some of them.”

Fernandez-Garcia helped create the first Pride Center in the Los Rios Community College District at ARC in June 2018 and has since worked in the community college setting to uplift those who identify themselves as LGBTQ+.

“In non-remote operations, coming into the Pride Center was really building it from this vision of what different folks were advocating for on our campus: to have a Pride Center to support LGBTQIA+ students,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “That’s creating events and programs, highlighting and centering trans and queer people and really emphasizing that this community is so complex and diverse.”

Fernandez-Garcia says their hope for the center would be a safe place for LGBTQ+ people to feel affirmed in their identity and create relationships with those like them or allies.

“We are a small corner, but it’s intimate and affirming,” Fernandez-Garcia said.“When we were on campus, we always invited folks to come see us in between classes or after classes to utilize the computers, to hang out with the staff, to build relationships with us, to check in, to see what our next event was going to be.”

Fernandez-Garcia, who is an alumni of Sacramento City College and Cosumnes River College, continued their education at California State University, Sacramento.

Giving back to the city that raised them is exactly what Fernandez-Garcia wanted to do in their role at ARC.

“I have a lot of love for Sacramento and I think that there is so many different ways to be involved in education in Sacramento that are important for people to engage and participate in,” Fernandez-Garcia said.

They have worked in multiple education positions, from K-12 to their journey currently at the community college level.

“I feel like as a practitioner in education, I wanted to get all different types of experiences,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “I really love the world of education because I think that learning has the power to really help us grow and evolve as people.”

Learning ties into one of the core values of the Pride Center: open communication and education about the history of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Trans and queer people are LGBTQIA+ and are always relevant to everybody,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “We can’t read just some chapters, we should be reading the whole book.”

History about LGBTQ+ people is not mainstream, and in their experience it is almost nonexistent in K-12 education.

“That perpetuates this myth that LGBTQIA+ people don’t exist or that their lives and experiences are not important,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “I feel spaces like the Pride Center really interrupt that myth. We push back against that socialization and challenge what our preconceived notions are around sex, gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression.”

The Pride Center welcomes anyone who is interested in learning about the LGBTQ+ community to engage in their events and spaces.

“We do trainings about LGBTQIA+ identity, we put on events and programs centered on LGBTQIA+ experiences and the intersectional identities that exist within this community,” said Fernandez-Garcia. “We also do a lot of advocacy in terms of updating policies on our campus and around the district that are not inclusive of LGBTQIA+ scholars.”

They noted that many students do not know how to be engaged with the Pride Center and if allies could attend these events as well.

“One way is to apply to be a student peer mentor with the Pride Center. That would mean directly working for the pride center and creating events, programs, and training out of the Pride Center,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “Another way is to be engaged and show up to the spaces that we create.”

Although distance learning has been difficult for students and professors alike, the Pride Center has been able to utilize their resources to branch out to underserved communities, such as the other LRCCD colleges with no Pride Center on their own campuses.

“I feel other students from other campuses have been able to access more of our event spaces because everything is just a link away,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “I’d actually like to see when we’re able to be back in person how we can incorporate in person interaction while also still utilizing the technology that we have now to make things more accessible to people across the district and the Sacramento community at large.”

The Pride Center has been able to operate as usual without in-person contact and their goal is to help students feel less isolated during distance learning.

“Last semester, pride student mentors launched a project called #TheQueeritineProject, in which we started hosting virtual events, creating content on social media, and talking about serious issues, but also highlighting trans and queer joy, and why that’s also important to talk about and make space for,” Fernandez-Garcia said.

Opening the first Pride Center in the district was a challenging task, but has had a great impact on the staff involved and the students that have been helped with their friendships and resources.

“Long term, I would love to see a pride center on each campus in our district,” Fernandez-Garcia said. “I would love to see those be physical spaces with full-time staff, student internship possibilities, as a future vision for our entire district, not just our campus.”

Fernandez-Garcia says that they do not want to put a career plan for the future in stone, but are open to any opportunities life gives them.

“Being really dedicated to serving my community, I just want to be open to the possibilities and to the fact that those can change,” Fernandez-Garcia said.