Queer. Latina. Cowgirl.
These are just three ways you could describe Cristina Hernandez’s identity, which is as complex and interconnected as the students for whom she advocates at UNLV’s Jean Nidetch Women’s Center. In her own way, the Las Vegas native and Chaparral High School alum represents many of the seemingly juxtaposed identities that community leaders navigate in the social media age.
Here are a few more: Survivor. Rebel. Sister.
As director, the 35-year-old Hernandez has made the women’s center a potent champion of student rights and a leading community organization, with a reach stretching beyond campus. The center’s programs include Take Back the Night events every fall and annual spring productions of The Vagina Monologues.
It is because Hernandez is a first-generation college graduate and Rebel alum that she is so passionate about helping students.
“It wasn’t until I came [to the women’s center] that I saw that there could be some changes that would help sex assault survivors.” – Cristina Hernandez
“It gives me a different perspective on the kind of services that are available here and how to be a part of the community,” she says.
Under her watch, the women’s center has expanded its anti-violence programs. Herself a survivor of sexual assault, she has fought for changes to campus policies and expanding services to victims, such as establishing the 24/7 peer hotline UNLV Care Line, which helps victims of rape, relationship violence and stalking. She was elected late last year to the board of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, and she just ended her term on the Attorney General’s Domestic Violence Council.
“It wasn’t until I came [to the women’s center] that I saw that there could be some changes that would help sex assault survivors,” she says.
In January, Hernandez and her team launched Green Dot, a campus violence prevention program that teaches students safe ways to intervene and prevent violence. While Green Dot has already rolled out on smaller campuses, UNLV is one of the largest schools with a high portion of commuter students that has implemented the program.
Before she became pregnant with twins, Hernandez pushed for expansion of available breastfeeding and pumping services, creating six lactation rooms around campus.
“I’m lucky because where I work, I have an office, so I could just close the door when I breastfed or pumped, but most students just had the bathrooms,” Hernandez says. Now she’s focusing on increasing the number of diaper-changing stations on campus—including putting them in men’s rooms.
The center received a grant this year from the Nevada Attorney General’s anti-violence program, which will be used to extend services to include the LGBT community as part of the existing CARE program. Hernandez says it is important that all students feel comfortable accessing anti-violence programs the center offers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“A lot of times, people who don’t identify as a woman might not think we have services for them, but we do,” she says.
Hernandez has fought for the LGBT community off duty as well. With emeritus status now, she was the first cisgender, female member of the Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which organizes the annual Red Dress charity events for its AIDS drug-assistance program. Her wife, Sybrina Bernabei, was a sister at the same time and helped out as well.
Hernandez’s work has not gone unnoticed. She won staff member-of-the-year awards from both the school president’s office and student affairs in 2012, as well as a Rebel Award for commitment to diversity in 2013.
For Hernandez, the personal is not only political, but it informs her work as well. “My feminism shapes the way I look at the world, in my professional career as well as how I raise my children.”
Photo by Krystal Ramirez