By Shanelle Lopez Students who have worked with Daisy Torres-Baez, the coordinator of Diversity Initiatives and Student Engagements, received a shocking farewell email during the last week of October saying she had taken a new job and would be leaving campus. Although many students were not expecting a message like this from Torres-Baez, they were all very supportive.
Torres-Baez will be doing equity and inclusion work at Weill Cornell, which is an institution that has multiple staff and offices doing similar work. “One of the benefits of the position is funding to pay for my doctorate,” said Torres-Baez. She will be in New York City, continuing as a diversity programs coordinator working to increase the presence of students of color in the medical school. “It’s an opportunity to connect to Cornell, where I did my undergraduate education.”
Torres-Baez has been here for two years and has accomplished a lot with the Multicultural Center. “I am so proud to have brought the campus together...I am most proud of working with a team to raise scholarship funds and award $500 for undocumented students, who have no access to federal or state aid,” said Torres-Baez.
When asked what motivates her, she said, “I think knowing that in some ways there has not been much progress in enhancing the campus life experience for students of color.” Her motivations for diversity programming and her position on campus comes from her drive of being able to connect with the underrepresented students on campus because she was a first-generation student as well. “When I went to school in 2005, in some ways it is very similar of students feeling that they don’t have campus support. So, knowing that this experience still continues definitely drives me be like, ‘okay we need to have opportunities for people to connect together.’”
Torres-Baez is a Port Chester native, born and raised, just two blocks from the Loop stop. Her parents are from Peru and are Quechua speaking. Torres-Baez went to Catholic school her whole life. “My parents believed for quality you had to pay, they didn’t believe in the public-school system,” she said. Growing up in a Spanish language household brought some difficulties for Torres-Baez. “The school I went to first on Westchester Avenue would give detention if you spoke Spanish. Since my parents spoke Spanish and Quechua, in kindergarten I was told I cannot only listen to Spanish television. Following that my parents started only English language television in the house.”
As years passed, Port Chester today became nothing compared to what it was like when Torres-Baez was a child. “When I was younger most of my block was immigrants or African Americans,” said Torres-Baez. Reflection of the old Port Chester included memories of raids within the households and stores of the community. “When I was younger, I assumed everyone’s status was the same. I was very concerned that maybe one day when it was time for my mom to come get me from school, she wasn’t going to be there because they had taken her.”
The Multicultural Center opened in January of 2016. “At that point I was eight and a half months pregnant when I found out about the center being opened,” said Torres-Baez. Torres-Baez had every intention that she would be able to attend, except the fact that her baby came two to three weeks earlier than expected. “I wanted to go to just support because I am from Port Chester and, also the fact that it took SUNY that long to have a Multicultural Center.”
After her baby was born, Torres-Baez was not able to see the Center until later in the semester, when she was working for Latino U College Access. “I was helping first generation Latino students apply to college, including seniors, juniors and even middle schoolers.” The opening position in the center had been exactly what Torres-Baez wanted because she knew after her current position she was ready to go back to a college campus. “I was a little struck that it had a coordinator level for a center but I said why not. I have been a coordinator before and ran a Hispanic Cultural Center.”
Senior Michelle Tineo credits Torres-Baez for being a strong influence. “Working with her is like working with family. Being a person of color like me, I instantly gravitated to her. We always talk about inclusivity and how can we do that. If I wasn’t able to work with her, I wouldn’t be as involved and active on campus.” Tineo is also active in SOCA (Students of Caribbean Ancestry) and Latinx Unidos.
Azia Rodriguez worked with Torres-Baez to create a UNICEF USA club on campus to help children all over the world. She says Torres-Baez is, “The most helpful person! She reached out to me during my time of creating a club on campus. It showed me how involved and helpful she is to not only me but I can imagine everyone else as well. She is my lifesaver!” When Rodriguez found out that Torres-Baez was scheduled to leave campus she was saddened by the news.
“Honestly, I met her this semester, so I didn’t have much time with her. But she impacted me very much. When I found out that she was leaving and now that she is gone, I feel lost. Like I don’t have anyone to really guide me when it comes to my club.”
Torres-Baez talked about her hopes for the college in regard to diversity and inclusion on campus. “I hope to see more investment into diversity and inclusion, in the form of more professional staff for the center, a director or assistant director, and more resources, such as faculty and program funding, for academic diversity programs.” Her work at Purchase, she says, has “given me the opportunity to make people feel at home.”