Julio Reyes is the Latinx Student Life Coordinator, assistant director of Student Outreach and Success and program director of the Undocumented Student Initiatives. Reyes graduated from Brown University in 2012 with degrees in Sociology and Portuguese & Brazilian Studies. Later employed at Brown, Reyes focused on social justice issues and Latinx community engagement as a Minority Peer Counselor Friend, Latino History Month Programmer and Latino Student Initiative programmer. At Oberlin, he has worked in the Multicultural Resource Center and helped create the Undocumented Students Initiatives program. After three years here, Reyes returns to Brown as the inaugural program director of the university’s First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center June 15.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What drew you to Oberlin in the first place?
I actually heard about Oberlin College as a high school student because I used to do music in high school, and my guidance counselor suggested that I apply to Oberlin for the Conservatory — I had no idea about the College at that time. But Oberlin after that, specifically when I was looking for jobs, I wanted to work at a place where I could enact all my social justice politics through the work that I was doing. It wasn’t a side project; I could actually be invested in the work of doing social justice in a professional capacity. I really thought that I could do that well here, given [the College’s] legacy and its history, and also for me to identify areas where I could see growth and where things kind of still needed to be changed or pushed. Also, I got along really well with students during my interviews, and I think that, in addition to being able to do what I wanted professionally, is also really great.
Since coming here, what parts of the Oberlin community have been most meaningful to you?
I think that the connections I’ve been able to build with the students. I feel like we have a very mutual understanding of what our relationship is, so mutual trust, respect and I think love for one another. I think that’s what kept me here at Oberlin, even when I felt very challenged here and have thought about other professional opportunities or what I could do elsewhere. [Students] have kept me going, and I really appreciate them the most, especially the student leaders and the people I’ve been working with during my time. That’s what I’ll miss the most about Oberlin. It’s the very unique kind of student connections that I’ve been able to develop.
What are some of the things you’re most proud of accomplishing as the Latinx Student Life Coordinator?
I am most proud of being able to integrate leadership development and work with students in showing that we’re creating a constant community of support, thinking about care and wellness and how that drives the relationships I build with students and also the relationships that students build with each other. Also, understanding that as students get older, we have to make sure that we’re bringing new students into the community and working with them and supporting them, helping them grow and develop — understanding that how we think about social justice shifts and changes over time, and we need to make sure that we’re doing that work with younger students. I think those are some of the things I’ve been really proud of.
Also being able to develop, grow out and create the Undocumented Students Initiatives program that didn’t necessarily exist before, but through that — again, collaboration with students — help build something really great that will continue to provide support for students moving forward.
How is the MRC important to you and to the students who use the space, from what you see?
For me and for the students that I also work with, it’s a place where I come — and I think other students as well — to get re-centered. I think there’s a lot that happens outside the institution and within the institution that makes it challenging for the student communities that are supported by the MRC just in their daily lives but also while they’re navigating being college students. It’s challenging. But I see the center as a space for people to come together and build community with each other. They learn to love one another. They learn to get upset with each other but also just become re-centered and work with each other through the process of learning and growing and unlearning… .
I see students coming with a lot of hurt and pain, given some of the experiences they have. But I also see students also coming in with a lot of joy. I think that the center serves as a balancing space for them. That’s what I mean when I say re-centered: where you can exist as a person that’s really hurt and upset but also have joy and happiness and want to celebrate all of that. I think that’s the beauty of the MRC, and that’s been one of the things that’s been helping me stay in Oberlin… . I never thought I’d live in Ohio, but that’s what the center’s done for me.
Are the students sad to see you go?
Yeah, they are. That was the toughest part for me in making the decision to leave Oberlin. Because again, what’s kept me here for so long are the relationships I’ve built with students, and I really trust them a lot. I think the students trust me a lot, and I respect them a lot. Their needs, their values and their goals are really what drive the work that I do. I think without the strong relationships that I have with them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’ve done over the past three years.
How do you feel about your new position at Brown? Are you nervous, excited?
Yeah, I’m really nervous. I’m scared. I’m excited. I think I have a lot of mixed emotions about leaving but also about starting something new. I’m most nervous about being in a very visible leadership position and making sure that I can incorporate the work that I’ve done here at Oberlin in a new setting. And that’ll be a challenge, but I think that I’ll have a good system of support. I’m going to mess up, that’s inevitable, but I hope that people will be patient with me and help me work through some of these nerves as well.
How do you think your time at Oberlin has prepared you for your new position?
Oh, God. It’s funny, I was talking to some faculty members yesterday, and I mentioned to them that I felt like Oberlin is like a boot camp for people who are interested in higher education because so much happens at Oberlin constantly. There’s so much happening in terms of student unrest, students wanting more and demanding more of the institution, which makes sense. But as a younger staff member, I think it really prepares people to take the next step and move professionally because they gain so much experience from working with such a tight-knit community but also learning from students a lot about how to affect change and institutions in a way that’ll make them more comfortable.