First Latinx student trustee hopes to improve connection between board and students

Valentina Fernández hopes to bring fresh perspective to Board of Trustees

First Latinx student trustee hopes to improve connection between board and students

Valentina Fernández, student trustee, Neil Kerwin, former University president, and Shyheim Snead, former student trustee. 

Rising junior Valentina Fernández is sitting in a conference room inside the President’s Office Building, awaiting the next Board of Trustees meeting. Although she is surrounded by influential university donors and decision makers, she doesn’t shy away from sharing her ideas and upholds herself with the professionalism she learned from being a student government senator.

As the first Latinx student trustee, Fernández is determined to make her voice heard on behalf of the student body.

“I couldn’t believe that I got the position, honestly,” Fernández said. “I knew it was something I wanted and felt prepared, but there was still that sense of, ‘Am I qualified enough to do this?’”

Fernández is the first Latinx student trustee on the University’s board of trustees, a position she assumed on May 18. She brings to the role stints as vice president of AU College Democrats and financial services director under former SG President Devontae Torriente, and plans to bring new insight into the role from her previous experience in AUSG and AU College Democrats.

She decided to get involved with the Board of Trustees last year after she reached out to Shyheim Snead, the previous student trustee. He told her about his experiences on the Board, such as interviewing candidates for the 15th University president and educating the campus on how the Board of Trustees functions.

Fernández soon realized that their interests aligned and she felt that this position would be a perfect fit for her.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is the place for me,” Fernández said. “I think it was a good way to combine my knowledge of campus culture and my involvement that I had learned from other leadership roles into helping the university in the long term.”

Snead then became Fernández’s mentor, teaching her about how the University functions and watching board meetings on the major issues that the AU community faces. Serving a student trustee is a two-year commitment: Fernández spent the past year shadowing Snead before assuming the role herself on May 18.

Fernández said his influence set the standard for how to behave on the Board and how to speak with eloquence on behalf of students. He also showed her that the position is much different from a student government role in that although she speaks on behalf of students, she also has to think about the University’s best interests from the administration’s perspective.

Snead said he was fortunate to have mentored Fernández and appreciated her hard work and dedication.

“Valentina brought with her a host of on campus experiences and connections that have informed her views and will undoubtedly serve her well in the boardroom,” Snead said in an email.

Upon becoming student trustee, Fernández said she worried that she wasn’t qualified enough to work with the influential alumni, donors and CEOs on the Board, but to her surprise, they made her feel welcome and took her ideas seriously.

“I think that once I stepped foot into the position, I was really overwhelmed but surprised at the same time because I think it was the first time that I was exposed to a room of that many influential people,” Fernández said.

As student trustee, she plans to facilitate more discussions between students and the Board. She believes that by using social media to promote Board activities, hosting coffee talks with student leaders and notifying students when trustees are on campus, she can make the position more transparent and increase communication between students and the administration.

“I think there’s a big disconnect about what students think the Board is doing and what the Board thinks students are doing, and that’s where a bunch of miscommunication happens,” Fernández said. “I think when students have someone that represents them on the Board, they are more willing to listen to what’s going on and understand how things are being broken down.”

As the first Latinx person to assume the position, Fernández plans to contribute ideas from her personal experiences to the Board. Fernández said race has become the largest issue on campus, following a series of racist incidents targeting black women last September and again in May.

She believes that it is her responsibility to offer new ideas that would not have been included if she wasn’t a Latinx person.

“When my identity comes into play, what can I contribute to the conversations that are happening?” Fernández said. “When can I speak up, especially when it comes to conversations on race?”

Snead, who is African-American, is confident that Fernández will represent her community while heightening the accessibility of the role.

“It is my hope and confidence that she will work to strengthen the bridge between students and the Board of Trustees, both in terms of transparency, information and accessibility,” Snead said.

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