By Andrea García, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
Last month on Sept. 18, best friends and dynamic duo Evelia Guerrero and Elizabeth Murillo made history as the first Latina students to be elected as Marquette University Student Government (MUSG) president and vice president.
What started out as playful ribbing between friends took root in an idea, an idea that turned into a successful campaign filled with overwhelming support from friends, family, strangers, faculty and staff.
This outpouring of encouragement helped Evelia feel that she was “embraced and welcomed by the university.”
While the path turned out to be rewarding, the road was not easy.
As Evelia expressed, “being the first to do something is scary and daunting.” With no previous representation from Latinas in MUSG’s highest offices, Evelia and Elizabeth felt that, while they had a tremendous amount of support, they also felt alone – few others truly understood what they were going through.
As first-generation students, the feeling of being an imposter was not new to them, and that creeping feeling lingered over Evelia and Elizabeth.
The thought of being ill-equipped for office was a fear they shared.
Were they fit to run?
Were they going to live up to expectations?
These were thoughts that they had to quell as their campaign moved forward. Thanks to their support group and each other, Evelia and Elizabeth were able to overcome these stresses and feelings of self-doubt.
Holding office as students of color also foments concerns of being tokenized. Having worked with and being mentored by Sara Manjee, the previous MUSG president who is also first-generation and a student of color, Evelia and Elizabeth understood the great pressure the role would bring.
While they are the first Latinas to hold office, Evelia and Elizabeth understand that they do not represent all Latinas or all underrepresented students on campus.
So in running their campaign, Evelia and Elizabeth were very inclusive in their outreach and goals. Some of their priorities include helping to lay the groundwork of racial equity and justice and fostering greater support for first-generation college students on campus.
Elizabeth is also having conversations around LBGTQ+ rights across campus, beyond the walls of the LBGTQ+ Resource Center. Elizabeth shared that peoples’ personal pronouns should appear in places like CheckMarq to avoid misgendering students, staff and faculty alike.
This commitment to social justice is rooted in their own experiences and leadership journeys, which started long before their campaign.
As the two seniors have navigated through nursing school together, they’ve each been leaders and advocates for others. Last year, Evelia served as MUSG outreach vice president, during which she collaborated on multiple community engagement, diversity, equity, and social justice programs and initiatives.
Evelia is a Burke Scholar who has committed herself to giving back to the Milwaukee community. This past year, Evelia was awarded the Pedro Arrupe Award for her commitment to Marquette’s value of service to the campus community and beyond.
And as a senior in the Educational Opportunity Program, Evelia has worked as a peer counselor and a “pump mentor” for incoming freshman in the Educational Opportunity Program.
Elizabeth is also extremely involved. Last year, she served as MUSG chief of staff. She is a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. She was a resident assistant in Schroeder Hall for two years as well as a summer resident counselor for the Pre-College Health Career Opportunity Program. Elizabeth also works on the COVID-19 nurse hotline at the Milwaukee Health Department and is a “Make a Difference COVID-19 Student Ambassador” at Marquette.
Both Evelia and Elizabeth are peer mentors for “Project BEYOND-2,” a program dedicated to providing minority, first-generation and low-income nursing students with professional development opportunities, study skills and peer mentoring circles.
They also each hold executive board positions in “I’m First,” a student organization dedicated to empowering first-generation college students.
Their outstanding work has been recognized by the Office of Student Affairs, as they each received the award for Contemplative in Action this past year.
Through their time so far at Marquette, both Evelia and Elizabeth have learned a lot about leadership.
“Leadership doesn’t look one way nor does it act a singular way. It comes in different forms and shapes – it’s being a loud voice in a room, leading by example or being a servant-leader,” Evelia said.
Elizabeth also encourages students to not be discouraged to enter different spaces on campus, even if they feel uncomfortable or don’t know anyone there.
“Even if you don’t see yourself being a leader in those spaces, step out of your comfort zone and go there,” Elizabeth said.
Evelia and Elizabeth first stepped foot in the MUSG office when they were visiting a friend who worked there. Now, they are the new face of student leadership.
The lesson is, if you want a seat at the table, sometimes that means reaching outside your comfort zone.
In the words of Evelia, who now sits at the head of the proverbial table, “We are all Marquette students.”