*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
My name is Norma Hernandez and I’m running to be a Board Trustee at Triton College.
As a proud Proviso East and Triton College alumni, I have firsthand experience of the many challenges students go through. I grew up in Melrose Park most of my life and would spend the majority of my summers on my grandparents’ farm in Mexico. Seeing my family work multiple jobs just to make ends meet pushed me to want to further my education and pursue a career in social work and public policy.
As a student at Triton College, I found myself struggling academically in my classes. During this time I blamed myself and my learning capabilities without understanding how zip codes determine the quality of education and how this results in many schools not preparing students adequately for college. After overcoming numerous obstacles, I graduated with my associate’s degree. I came across social work and realized that this profession would grant me the opportunity to empower people to improve their lives as I had. I received my Bachelor’s in Social Work in May 2016 and worked as a Foster Care Case Manager in the South Side of Chicago.
This experience inspired me to pursue my Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy with a concentration in Community Development. I graduated in May 2019 and was offered a full-time position as a Community Development Planner at UIC Great Cities Institute. My work primarily focuses on addressing the civic empowerment gap in Chicago through an initiative called Participatory Budgeting Chicago (PBChicago). Through this initiative, I work with various Aldermen, their staff, community leaders, residents, and Chicago Public Schools around community planning, direct democracy, and civic engagement. I recently helped produce “Participatory Budgeting in Schools: A Toolkit for Youth Democratic Action”, for educators to use in their curriculum across Chicago Public Schools.
My life experiences, academic background and career make me uniquely qualified to advocate for students and higher education on the Triton College Board of Trustees.
What is your understanding of the role of a board trustee?
My understanding of the role of a board trustee is that they serve as the foundation of how the school functions for its students, faculty and the communities it serves. Board trustees play a vital role in every critical decision making process such as approving the annual college budget, hiring and evaluating the college president, helping shape the image of the college and participating in legislative advocacy. For these specific reasons it’s important to truly have a non-partisan candidate like me, who can be held accountable to serving students and faculty rather than an agenda.
Do you believe that Triton College adequately serves the needs of its Black, Brown and otherwise disadvantaged students? Please explain.
Triton college is nearly 50% latinx and they currently do not have any Latinx representation in the decision making table. There was an article published by the Chicago Tribune in 2019 that stated despite the college being over 40% Hispanic and 16% African American, Triton’s administrative staff is still 70% White, 10% African American and 10% Latino. They also use 25.5% of their budget toward administrative salaries instead of toward student support. I am committed to leveraging my experience and resources to ensure that black, brown, and disadvantaged students will receive the quality education they deserve. I remember being them and I am determined that no student has to struggle to graduate like I did.
Does the Triton College administration have a healthy relationship with its various bargaining units? Please explain.
Unfortunately, under the current board leadership, the Triton College board has had a hostile relationship with the three units (317 members total) represented by Cook County College Teachers Union. Currently, the administration refuses to negotiate with the faculty union remotely, insisting that it must be in-person. Mark Stephens openly supported the administration’s position in the last board meeting. This flies in the face of what has been standard practice throughout the pandemic and it demonstrates a flagrant disregard for its employees’ safety. I want to fight for better employee support especially as we are still in unprecedented times. Flexibility is imperative.
Is a Triton College education affordable? Please explain.
Overall, Triton College serves an array of programs, certifications, and degrees at an affordable tuition cost. What I find concerning is that although the college is technically affordable, tuition has been increasing by 4% in these past couple of years. This is further exacerbated by the mismanagement of funds done intentionally by the board of trustees, cuts of federal funds in public education, and a global pandemic. All of this has led to cuts in student services which I will fight against since it has led to decreased enrollment. Triton needs to value not just by a dollar amount but by the time of educational resources one deserves to get with that dollar amount.
Is Triton College sufficiently engaged with its feeder communities? Please explain.
I don’t believe Triton College is engaged enough with both its internal campus community and the overall communities in the district. My opinion is rooted from personal experience as an alumni and resident, but also from hearing various testimonies of Triton College faculty and students. A couple of years ago, student groups organized to express the need for the board to create a sanctuary campus policy for immigrant students. Those efforts were completely dismissed and silenced by the board without even trying to give them a chance to hear their testimonies. I attended Triton and accepted that my voice wasn’t valued, but that led me to a hard path in which I didn’t get my Associate’s degree on time. It’s important to be engaged with the feeder communities because those communities are our family, friends, or partners that impact our lives as a student daily.
Does the college have adequate COVID-19 mitigations and protocols in place? Please explain.
Recently, there was an all Triton 1600 member meeting attended by over 100 employees. There was a consensus and deep concern that the college had not updated its COVID plan in months while the college is requiring many of its members to return to in-person work on campus. These employees agreed to demand to the President that there be a reopening plan and that the employees have a voice in its creation and implementation. I believe the college administration and board needs to engage more with faculty on those measures. I and so many others have lost so many people to this virus. It’s time to step up and make sure everyone feels safe as on campus education resumes.