How identities intersect: Meet Dora Frias, El Centro director

Jenna Landry

Colorado State University’s Latinx cultural center, El Centro, named Dora Frias as its new director. Frias is using her own intersectionality and experiences to enhance the connections between El Centro and other portions of the CSU community.

Frias was born in Durango, Mexico, and grew up in El Paso, Texas, something Frias said she always talks about. In her meet the director letter on El Centro’s website, Frias also stressed how important her wife and daughter are to her.

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“It’s an important part of my identity and who I am and how I’ve come to understand my identity and certainly influences my work as well,” Frias said.

Frias received her master’s degree from CSU in student affairs and higher education. Since then, Frias has spent her career mostly working in identity-based cultural resource centers on different college campuses across the country.

Before becoming the newest director of El Centro, Frias served as the director of CSU’s Pride Resource Center for 2 1/2 years. The Pride Center, another office housed in the Lory Student Center, leads student diversity programs for Rams who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Frias, who identifies as queer, said she is excited to move next door in her new job.

Her affirmative voice made sure that whoever entered the center would feel accepted and valued. Dora will continue to impact Pride by leaving a legacy of acceptance and understanding.”-Brandon Paez, student representative for Pride Resource Center

Pride and El Centro have always been close in proximity, but they haven’t always had a strong connection, according to assistant director of Pride, Maggie Hendrickson. However, they said Frias is changing that.

“Pride and El Centro, we’re in the same cluster, we’re in Student Diversity Programs and Services and we’re right next door to each other in the LSC,” Hendrickson said. “We even share a door, and we’ve been connected, but I think we just haven’t had the strongest of relationship(s), and now, I think, with Dora’s leadership, our offices are collaborating on how we’re open this fall, the resources we provide.”

Hendrickson also said that since there’s an overlap between Latinx Heritage Month and LGBTQ+ History Month, between September and October, Frias is starting a new program series called the Borderlands Speaker. The series — which will feature poetry from Seattle-based writer and healer La Espiritista this year — will feature a person who is Latinx and queer every year, according to Hendrickson. 

Brandon Paez, a third-year honors student studying psychology at CSU, said that Frias inspired him and continues to be a role model to him and others in Pride. Paez serves as the student chair of the President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee and the student representative for the Pride Resource Center.

“Dora has impacted Pride through love,” Paez said. “Everyone who came into the center felt her genuine care. Her affirmative voice made sure that whoever entered the center would feel accepted and valued. Dora will continue to impact Pride by leaving a legacy of acceptance and understanding.”

Like Hendrickson, Paez believes that the centers will grow closer.

“Pride has always been connected to El Centro,” Paez said. “The door between our centers remains open, and people walk to and from. With Dora as the director of El Centro, … I think that there will be a deeper level of intersectionality, community and understanding across the identities of El Centro and Pride.”

Our students are more than just their racial experience; they show up with a variety of different identities and experiences that influence how they understand who they are.” -Dora Frias, El Centro director

Frias said that the roles in Pride and El Centro are similar, as they’re both director positions for identity-based centers, but that the new position is a shift in the identity lens that she’s leading with. In Pride, Frias led with gender identity and sexual orientation always at the forefront in her mind. However, Frias now leads with a racial lens, specifically a Latinx/Hispanic lens, “(and) always with intersecting identities in mind.”

“Our students are more than just their racial experience,” Frias said. “They show up with a variety of different identities and experiences that influence how they understand who they are.”

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One of the biggest issues for El Centro is the current pandemic, which changes what El Centro used to be for students. Regardless, Frias still has many goals for the center and for its students.

“El Centro has always had that legacy of being that home away from home for Latino students, Latinx students, Hispanic students on this campus,” Frias said. “I hope that we can continue some of that legacy of what the center has been.”

Frias said her goals include building out programs and services to support the student experience since many Latinx students don’t see themselves reflected at CSU because it is a predominantly white university. 

Frias wants to ensure that El Centro’s programs and services are supporting their academics and personal and professional goals as well. Frias is most focused on short-term goals as of right now to help students still feel connected.

“My goal is to know students as best I can given the super virtual space that we’re in, so I’m doing my best trying to outreach to students,” Frias said. “We’re trying to increase our social media presence, we’ve established a newsletter to get the word out about the resources that we have going on, and (we’re) doing our best to support student(s) during this really difficult time.”

For students who want to stay connected with El Centro, there are several avenues to do so. El Centro primarily uses Instagram to connect with students and share resources. El Centro has also announced their virtual Latinx Heritage Month programming, including cultural cooking lessons on Instagram Live and a student-facilitated dialogue series that Frias hopes will be a good opportunity to connect with students. 

Jenna Landry can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @yesjennalandry.