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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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Yasmine Davila: Assistant Director for Intercultural Life

Yasmine+Davila+at+HOPE+Center
Addison Steinbach
Yasmine Davila at HOPE Center

As a recent alumni, Assistant Director of Intercultural Life Yasmine Davila has been able to pull from her already deep understanding of Intercultural Life at Knox to aid her in her new role. Davila graduated early from Knox in Dec. 2019 and became Assistant Director of Intercultural Life at the beginning of Fall term 2023.

Davila grew up on the Southwest side of Chicago in a neighborhood of people who came from very different cultural backgrounds than her family. This shaped her experience as a third generation Puerto Rican American.

“A lot of my lived experience and background comes from that dynamic,” Davila said. “Southwest side Chicago for a little Puerto Rican child was different because a lot of the Puerto Rican Chicago community is on the North side of Chicago, and I grew up in a very predominantly white, but specifically Eastern European immigrant community, … I came from being in predominantly white spaces. It shaped my experience especially from having lighter skinned parents and being more of a brown-skinned Puerto Rican bodied woman in those spaces.”

During high school, she moved with her parents to the Southwest suburbs of Chicago. Davila was passionate about staying at her all girls Catholic high school, Holy Trinity High School, and commuted up to two hours from her new home to and from the school. This passion allowed Davila to complete a full IB diploma.

Davila considers the Midwest her home, so when she was looking at schools, she was interested in small private liberal arts colleges in the Midwest that would take her full IB diploma, or at least a majority of them. After visiting Knox, who would take her credits, she knew her decision.

“Knox and Beloit at that time were some of the few colleges that were taking IB credits, and were going to take my diploma. I also knew when I stepped on Knox College campus. Just the diversity and representation, seeing the cultural centers. I was like, ‘that’s it, I’m coming here,’” Davila said. “Especially for someone who came from spaces that were predominantly white already, I was tired of feeling isolated racially and ethnically in spaces. So those were two things; my high school credits I was gonna take, but also representation. A space where I was gonna feel more at home.”

 

During Davila’s first year at Knox, she decided to start off slow; she was attracted to the cultural organizations, houses and centers, but didn’t fully commit – until she did. Then, Davila, “blossomed,” into a variety of leadership positions.

“Once you get into leadership here, you end up just getting into so many other roles. I started off feeling really at home in the cultural centers, specifically Casa Latina, in some of the cultural organizations, and then from there got really involved really quickly,” Davila said.

Due to her involvement in cultural spaces on campus, she became close to Director of Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez. She became very involved in Intercultural Life during a time where student peer educators were just starting to exist on campus, and was one of the first Intercultural Life peer educators.

Despite her deep involvement and passion, Davila still had her IB credits in hand and had planned to graduate early. She graduated from Knox two terms early in Dec. 2019 with an Anthropology & Sociology degree.

“I started off slow and thought I was just going to be a little nerd in the library and then I blossomed and got really involved and really engaged, all under the guise of graduating early. I graduated two terms early, right before Covid too,” Davila said.

 

With an upcoming pandemic looming in the background, Davila returned to campus for I-Fair in 2020, and was excited to come back for senior week and commencement in June. However, due to the pandemic, the 2020 commencement ceremony was rescheduled for June 2021.

 

Before graduating, Davila had thought she wanted to get a PHD and do intellectual research. However, her McNair research, along with advice from Cervantez, caused her to change course.

“My ANSO senior research, my McNair research, taught me really well that research is not for me,” Davila said. “Tianna was my McNair faculty advisor for my research. I also did a lot of work with her on the student leadership end. She was like, ‘How about social work?’, and I got a masters in social work. When I got that masters, I didn’t think I’d go back to higher ed, let alone back to Knox.”

Davila began her masters program in summer of 2020 at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Due to the pandemic, her program was fully remote.

“In retrospect now, it gave me everything that I needed it to give me. I came in already very educationally and academically challenged from being a full IB student in high school and then Knox, and I was looking for a program that was gonna teach me how to be a little less of a theorist and an intellectual and more of a practitioner,” Davila said.

After graduating with her masters in social work, a two year degree, she took a gap year and completed one of her life goals: to work in a bookstore.

“I was working in an office in the middle of my masters, and I was like, I don’t wanna do this anymore. So I decided to complete one of my life goals, bucket list goals. So, throughout my masters and in that gap year, I was a bookseller — a senior bookseller, a greeting card specialist, I did all the things,” Davila said.

During her gap year she was dealing with some personal health issues, during which she had the financial and familial support to live with her parents as she looked for jobs and worked to make connections. This support was important as she stabilized in her healing journey.

In this time she looked for work in nonprofit and college spaces because of her experiences as a student worker. She also had maintained her alumni connections after she left Knox, which is how she learned about the expansion of the Office of Intercultural Life.

Assistant Director for Intercultural Life is a new role at Knox, and Davila is the first to hold the position. After getting the job and moving from bookselling to assistant directing, she was excited about the challenge coming from a gap year.

“Many of us were just like graduating from these degrees, still trying to find ourselves, still trying to strengthen not only our passion, but our skillset, and so I think I was most excited about the opportunities that I can get to just learn,” Davila said. “To really lean in and learn and be challenged by having a gap year, but still having so much life, and passion, and motivation to apply all the things I learned as a student in all the ways, but also just the ways that maintaining my passion for service, my passion for social justice was gonna play out in the role.”

Davila’s new role is designated to work on cultural center programming and to advise cultural organizations on campus.

“My goal, which is also how I center my practice as a social work practitioner, is to be very student centered and focused,” Davila said. “So fall term, I was like, ‘before anything, let me get to know the students. A lot of that was being very intentional at kind of slowing it down. It can be really easy to be like, ‘we have the support now for all the projects and tasks that we need to do’.”

Davila reflects this sentiment in her role as an advisor, as well as her role as a Knox staff member.

“My specific direct advising support and style is to be very centered around students’ needs students’ wants, their development and growth and that takes just being around. Whether that means I’m here in the office, being engaged and going into spaces, asking to be entered into spaces too. That intimate relationship building and rapport for me is a very foundational part before we can get to other things,” Davila said.

In returning to her alma mater, Davila has had to come to terms with the transition between student and employee. One of her overarching personal goals is, “to be braver in this space,”.

“There are pieces of closure, like coming to terms with the student that I was as a leader and was here, and then coming into a professional role, I wanted to challenge myself to be braver in ways that I wasn’t in the space to do as a student. So whether that means when I’m engaging with other coworkers, but also just being brave to be honest with students and to hold space for more courage,” Davila said.

One of the ways she has transitioned from student to staff is by teaching a social justice dialogue class. This class is taught to go alongside Day of Dialogue. As part of the original Day of Dialogue team, Davila has a unique perspective on both the class and event.

“It’s so full circle. I was a student that took the class, that was at a time when social justice dialogue, the curriculum was more vibrant, and there was just a lot more classes being taught. Then Covid really impacted the program, but Day of Dialogue as a co-curricular out of Office of Intercultural Life still stayed,” Davila said. “I got to be a part of Day of Dialogue for the first time as a professional and I also got to see Day of Dialogue where it’s at, when I remember being there for the first, and being a part of the original team for the first and the second.”

Having both Davila and the new campus Assistant Director for Intercultural Life and LGBTQ+ Advisor Jordan Hurst, a 2017 Knox alum, there to help with the program excited the faculty and staff involved with Day of Dialogue. As a group they have worked to revitalize social justice dialogue on campus. Davila’s main goals are to build momentum and to bridge gaps.

“I feel like there’s been a lot of memory loss around the objective, the goal, what’s the purpose of a Day of Dialogue, of dialogue just as a tool. So I’m hoping both what we’ve done with this year’s Day of Dialogue to try to address some of those questions, uncertainties while also hosting the class is a great way to get people more familiar with something, for some of our students, that hasn’t been very active in the curriculum because it’s not been offered as much,” Davila said.

College campuses are constantly changing with students coming and going. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a dent in campus social life, which then affected campus culture. Davila graduated just four months before the pandemic became widespread. Due to factors like the pandemic and generational shifts, Davila can tell that the Knox culture has changed from when she was a student.

“It’s the energy. It’s a bit of the energy and the sense of community. There was a certain vibrancy to campus which I think came from a sense of community. Where you can step on campus at any time and there was a hum; like people had speakers on, and they were walking to class or people were just kind of shouting like, ‘I’m gonna see you at that meeting later!’, in a way that I didn’t feel when I came back,” Davila said.

Although that culture has changed, she has also found during this year that Knox still brings a certain type of people.

“But at the same time I say a lot, and at the same time the more I’ve gotten to know students, Knox is still attracting the same kind of students who value and/or are attracted to justice, diversity, curiosity, and trying to have a very full, all around experience,” Davila said.

Davila wants to encourage students to build a sense of community and to get to know a wider variety of people. Even with a smaller campus now, Davila still notes a lack of students simply knowing one another.

“That makes me think a lot about familiarity, I feel like it used to be you knew a friend of a friend of a friend and just because you knew a friend of a friend you would still be like, ‘hey, whats up?’… I think they were also just less strangers to one another,” Davila said.

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About the Contributors
Ellen/Kilroy Miller Garrett
Ellen/Kilroy Miller Garrett, Managing Editor
Ellen/Kilroy Miller Garrett '24 (they/them) is a Gender & Womens Studies major. They are the managing editor for The Knox Student. In their free time, they also work on WVKC, Knox's radio station. They have a tiny little dog (Frankie) who loves to join in on staff meetings. Awards Theodore Hazen Kimbale Memorial Award in Journalism - Feature article, 2023
Addison Steinbach
Addison Steinbach, Staff Photographer
Addison Steinbach '25 (any) is a History major and is the Staff Photographer. They love going around campus and taking moody pictures of the architecture.

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