New Hires to Boost Success of APIDA, American Indian Students
By Brian Hiro
One has been on campus for less than two months. The other is a Cal State San Marcos graduate who became deeply involved in campus life during her two years as a student.
Allura Murray-Cruz and Ilianna Ramirez took very different paths to their current station. What they most share in common – besides both being 24 years old with gregarious personalities – is a love of their ethnic heritage and a strong desire to help students of that heritage thrive.
That’s why each was the ideal candidate for foundational positions at CSUSM. Murray-Cruz is the new Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) student success coordinator. Ramirez is the new American Indian student success coordinator. Both started in their roles just before the outset of the fall semester.
“This is a dream position for me,” Murray-Cruz said. “I’ve always wanted to work with my community, and having the opportunity to uplift and empower and build something that’s going to better my community in the long run is something that means so much to me.”
Said Ramirez: “Because I’m grateful for the transformation that I underwent on this campus and all the opportunities I was afforded, I want to do my part to give back to students and to the faculty and staff I’ve worked with.”
The new hires are the outgrowth of American Indian and APIDA work groups, which met regularly over the past year and engaged the campus community to develop recommendations to better support inclusion and academic success. The first step was the additions of Murray-Cruz and Ramirez to oversee programming for APIDA and American Indian students, respectively.
The second step will be the opening, estimated for fall 2024, of new centers for APIDA and American Indian students in the University Student Union. The centers will join the five existing Student Life Centers for Identity, Inclusion and Empowerment: the Black Student Center, Cross-Cultural Center, Latinx Center, Pride Center, and Women and Gender Equity Center.
To make room for the new centers, the Dean of Students office will move to the first floor of the Administrative Building, and the USU will undergo a reorganization of its space.
“I’m excited about the impact that these two centers will have on our campus, our students and their overall experience at CSUSM,” said Viridiana Diaz, the university’s vice president for Student Affairs.
Murray-Cruz and Ramirez were hired for a six-month term, but they are optimistic that they will be able to stay on and possibly direct the centers when they open next fall.
“These populations have a very strong presence on campus,” Ramirez said. “It may not have been seen in years past. But the university is listening by the introduction of our positions, saying this is a large group of students and we see that we need to be doing more to meet their needs.”
Murray-Cruz came to CSUSM from MiraCosta College, which she attended as a student before finishing her college career at Point Loma Nazarene in 2022. She worked at MiraCosta for 3½ years – first as a campus liaison for a program called Mana that offers support services for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) students, then as a manager of student clubs and organizations at the college.
She views her position at CSUSM as a melding of those two previous jobs. She’s working on behalf of a specialized population of students while also getting to be very hands-on in her interactions with those students.
“My main goal is to get my face out there as much as possible, letting our community know that someone is here for you,” Murray-Cruz said.
Murray-Cruz herself embodies different letters within the APIDA acronym. She describes herself as part Okinawan (referring to the island south of the Japanese mainland) and part Chamorro, an identity deriving from the indigenous people of Guam. Reared in a military family in North County, she says she always related more to her Chamorro side, but she began to rectify that imbalance over the summer via a three-week trip to Japan, with the majority of it spent among family members in Okinawa.
“I started a club for Pacific Islanders in high school, and I remember being surrounded by Samoan football players and they were like, ‘Why is this little Asian girl the president?’ ” Murray-Cruz said. “I’ve always had to explain myself and overcompensate. But when I got to MiraCosta with the Mana program, they were accepting of the fact that I’m multiracial and don’t speak the language. It gave me so much more empowerment to advocate for both sides.”
Ramirez had a similar formative experience connected to her heritage. She grew up straddling three different cultural identities – American Indian, Guamanian and Mexican – which often had the effect of making her feel like she didn’t truly belong in any of them.
When Ramirez transferred to CSUSM from Grossmont College in 2021, her initial goal was to get her degree and get out. But at CSUSM, she rediscovered her roots and found community in multiple places. From not even knowing that the university offered an American Indian studies major, she eventually became president of the American Indian Student Alliance. She also joined Associated Students, Inc., as the representative for diversity and inclusion.
By the time she graduated last spring with a degree in psychological science, she had grown to appreciate her college journey so much that she welcomed the idea of remaining on campus as a Student Affairs employee.
“The more that I relaxed my own boundaries, the more that I let those walls come down in terms of not being on the four-year path, the more I was able to say, ‘Hey, I’m really good at doing this, and I should stay here and keep going,’ ” Ramirez said. “So my aspiration would be to see this through for as long as I can.”
As might be expected for two young women who hold similar jobs and work in the same building on campus (the USU), Murray-Cruz and Ramirez have become fast friends, bonding over not only their jobs but also a love of food and laughter. They hope to collaborate this semester on joint AI/APIDA programming.
“It's just nice to have someone understand what you're going through as they are going through the same thing,” Murray-Cruz said. “We're able to support each other and lean on one another if needed. I feel like the APIDA and AI communities are closely linked, so it would be great to have partnerships and ventures together to better unite and build our respective communities on campus.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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