On June 2, Mercy College held a Pride Month community reception hosted by President Tim Hall at the Bronx Campus to recognize the achievements of the LGBTQIA+ leaders who are making an impact at Mercy and in the community.
At the start of the program, Hall welcomed Mercy’s community partners to the Bronx Campus, and emphasized Mercy’s aim to support and provide resources for LGBTQIA+ students, faculty and staff. “This is where we celebrate and honor the contributions of our LGBTQIA+ students and make sure that we constantly remind ourselves that we aspire to create a community in which they are respected, included and honored,” Hall said.
The first panel discussion, which featured Mercy community partners, included: Justin Cortes, chief of staff for Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson; Sean Coleman, executive director of Destination Tomorrow; and Odis Guerrero, deputy chief of staff for the Office of New York State Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez.
During the panel, Cortes spoke to the significance of serving as chief of staff for the Bronx Borough president as an LGBTQIA+ person of color. “This Pride Month is particularly important because serving in this position – it’s not carved out by people who look like me. One of my biggest insecurities coming into this office was, am I that candidate?” said Cortes. “But, coming into this office, it is my duty to create opportunities for people who look like me. I have long hair. I’m LGBTQ. I’m the only Latino on record – Puerto Rican born – that has served under this capacity.”
Coleman, the first African American of Transgender Experience to operate an LGBTQIA+ Center in New York City History, remarked on the importance of Pride events in fostering intersectional and intergenerational discussions about the true meaning and historical significance of Pride. He also provided an overview of Destination Tomorrow, the Bronx LGBTQIA+ Center in which he leads. “I wanted Destination Tomorrow’s focus to be on economic empowerment. I wanted to make sure that the LGBTQIA+ community in the Bronx has the tools to be successful.”
Guerrero, a first-generation Dominican from the Bronx, mentioned the importance of supporting the LGBTQIA+ population, many of whom experience barriers to health care, education and economic opportunities, in her borough of origin. “It’s been a tough past two years with the pandemic. These disparities, while they’ve always been there, are now emphasized.” Additionally, Guerrero proudly spoke of her mother’s journey from immigrant to Mercy College graduate. She recalled helping her mother along the way, translating coursework from Spanish to English for her mother and staying up late to help her succeed.
The second panel discussion, which featured Mercy staff and faculty, included: Lyn Leis, director of career education for Mercy College’s Career and Professional Development Office; Jack Simons, assistant professor of counseling for Mercy College; and Patricio Mujica-Urzúa, assistant professor of biology at Mercy College.
Leis discussed Mercy’s efforts to guide LGBTQIA+ students as they navigate the career search process. “We have to create a space that’s inclusive,” Leis explained. She also emphasized the work she is doing to advise companies on how to uplift and support LGBTQIA+ entry level – and all level – employees. “We have the power to work with employers and ask them how they are going to promote a psychologically safe environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals.”
Simons presented an overview of his position as director of the Transgender Resilience Project, launched in January of this year, which is the first cross-national, strength-based lifespan study of the experiences of transgender and gender diverse people at difference ages. “What I’m excited to say is that we are getting people to tell us about their life stories, and what they’re doing to persist, and how they grow. We’re looking at different stages of development,” Simons explained. “And these are all new areas of scholarship.”
Mujica-Urzúa, a vascular cell biologist with 10 years of experience in scientific research and education, discussed his goal of developing curricula and practices that address diversity, equity and inclusion so that students are then prepared to address the health needs of people from all backgrounds as health professionals in the field. "It's of paramount importance to me to teach from a point of authenticity," he explained. "I teach anatmony and physiology - and my students are embarking on their journeys as health care professionals. They will be facing all populations - including LGTBQIA+ populations - in their fields."
To view additional photos from the Mercy College Pride Month Celebration, please see below.