Some people of color go their entire academic career without being taught by someone who looks like them. Others might be lucky enough to find such a teacher in high school or college.
For Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, former executive director of Multicultural Services at Missouri State University, the first time she met a Latina faculty member was in graduate school. As a woman of color, a sense of empowerment came with the experience, she said.
“I’ve had mostly majority white teachers, so I did have people who did invest in me,” Garcia-Pusateri said. “Even if they were white, they were still formative to me and my development, but there is something different when you see someone that looks like you, in front of you, leading the classroom discussion.”
Garcia-Pusateri’s career in multicultural services has spanned a decade. She started as assistant director of university affairs and coordinator of diverse student development at Miami University. Then she moved to Springfield and started at Missouri State. On Sept. 9, she’ll begin working at Springfield Public Schools as chief equity and diversity officer.
“I’m really excited,” Garcia-Pusateri said. “It’s a whole new environment for me, especially moving from college students to K-12. But it aligns with my passions which are education, working with diversity and inclusion and equity matters.”
At her new position at Springfield Public Schools, some of her responsibilities will include creating diversity and inclusion initiatives which will mean training and establishing diversity, equity and inclusion goals for the district. She will also be involved in addressing any biases in the district’s schools.
Much of her work in the public school system will involve building relationships and consulting teachers to see what they think about the state of diversity in the district. Garcia-Pusateri hopes to have a genuine, positive effect on students.
“Everything that they bring, the way they present, the way they identify, is going to be something that will be celebrated and embraced within their own learning,” Garcia-Pusateri said. “The learning that is going to take place is because we’re invested in the whole student.”
Garcia-Pusateri’s last day at Missouri State was Sept. 4. She said in her three years working at the university, she’s found a lot of satisfaction in her work. Managing the Inclusive Excellence Scholarship and Award Program and teaching the associated GEP course was one way in which she was able to connect with and educate diverse students about their identity.
As her colleague Matthew Banks, coordinator for multicultural programs and LGBT student services, explained, Garcia-Pusateri was also in charge of programming for heritage month observances at MSU and oversight of the PSU Multicultural Resource Center, the MRC Annex and the LGBTQ Resource Center.
While she was glad to come in to the position and continue the good work being done at Missouri State, she was also proud of the new traditions she helped start. The Multicultural Graduation Ceremony and Reception, for example, allows for the celebration of diverse students and their experiences at Missouri State while also highlighting how they were helped by Multicultural Services.
“I think the thing that has been really great about the graduation is that it’s a time where all we do is get together and just recognize this group of students,” Banks said. “It’s not about outwardly educating the larger community; it is purely just about singing the praises for the amazing work that these students have done and will continue to do after graduation.”
Banks said the multicultural graduation ceremony was just one example of how Garcia-Pusateri left a positive mark on MSU because of her personalized approach to her work.
“From the graduation ceremony to the different heritage month celebrations to just the advising and relationship building that she had, she came at this kind of work from a ‘Let’s build up these communities to make them more visible, make them more empowered, make them ready to change the world after graduation,’” Banks said.
Banks also said that much of the impact Garcia-Pusateri had in her job at MSU was due to her focus on intersectionality and the individual which came from her own unique experiences as a Latina woman.
“Yvania has a philosophy that diversity starts at lived experience and at the individual,” Banks said.
Garcia-Pusateri said that she was happy working at MSU, but the new position seemed to almost fall into her lap. This, along with the fact that her child will one day go through the Springfield school system, was reason enough for her to take the job.
She said that she hopes people understand that the kind of work she intends to do doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time but will hopefully allow both students and teachers to be more successful.