Sarah Nuñez has her “dream job” at the University of Louisville’s Cultural Center as the Assistant Director overseeing Hispanic and Latino Initiatives. This compassionate advocate wants to make higher education a more inclusive, communal place for students where they celebrate their unique identities. She takes this compassion outside the bounds of her job and is a vocal community activist for the Latino community and all people of color. Standing at less than five feet tall, Sarah may be tiny, but her energy and drive are tremendous. She lights up around her students and is so excited to mentor this generation. She has only lived in Louisville a couple of years, but she has managed to find some of Louisville’s best kept secret restaurants. And while she is still in search of the best tacos in Louisville, we will anxiously await her findings. Meet Sarah Nuñez, today’s FACE of Louisville.
Tell us about your job at the University of Louisville as the Assistant Director of the Cultural Center’s Hispanic and Latino Initiatives (HLI).
This is my dream job! Every day I get to work with Latino students and the UofL faculty and staff to enhance the lives of the students and our university. We develop, lead and host a wide range of programs and events, including leadership training, various workshops and one-on-one coaching for our Latino students. We explore students’ Latino identity, culture, history, healing and provide space for honest and open dialogue. In some instances, this will be the first time students have been mentored by Latinos.
That’s not all you do. Tell us about your passion that is not a part of your official job —Mijente.
My community activist work is with the local Mijente group, a national organization of Latinx people working to protect the rights of Latino, Black, Women, Immigrants, LGBTQ+, Muslims, undocumented people and others. (“Mijente” is the Spanish word for “my people.”)
We are currently working to create a sanctuary culture and related policies in Louisville. We want to defend the rights of our communities and show that we will not stand for the separation of our families, over-policing of our people, nor outright discriminatory practices. It takes strong leadership in the current environment, and we call upon our leaders to be bold and courageous.
I have many other interests and passions as well. I am on the board of La Minga Cooperative Farm. I am organizing a Louisville Latinx Oral History Project with the Oral History Center at UofL. I am teaching a seminar called The Path to Resilient Organizations through Equivalence of Power. And this coming fall, I will enter the doctoral program in Pan-African Studies.
What drew you to this line of work?
I have always been a person who cares deeply about others and social justice issues. When I traveled back to Bogota, Colombia, in 2000 for the first time since I was a young child, I saw social and economic injustices, harsh military presence, the effect of the U.S.-backed drug war in Colombia and extreme poverty and racism. This strongly influenced my view of how I wanted to make a difference. I knew that I could not simply watch our land and people (in the U.S. and Colombia) be ruined by these atrocities. I committed my life to this work 17 years ago, and I have never regretted it!
Regarding my education focus, as I grew up, I never had role models who had similar background and ideologies as me. I decided to become an educator to provide students what I was never able to experience. I am creating a place where students can be themselves without judgment and be inspired to be all they want to be while they become connected with people across the community who can help them be their best.
Where do you see both of these tracks that you are on — UofL and Mijente — in one year? And what about five years?
In one year, I see the HLI office expanding our Latino scholarships while offering even more robust and content rich programs for our Latino students. In five years, I would love to see a Centro Latino or Latino Student Union established at UofL with dedicated staff, space and a culture of love, healing and rich collaboration between the students, staff and faculty.
My activism work will always be present. I stand for what is right and just. Over the next year, I hope to see the local Mijente group expanding statewide, while building a grassroots movement of people directly affected by the issues, maintaining a decentralized structure and continuing to speak truth to power. It is difficult to look out five years due to the rapidly changing environment.
How did you end up living in Louisville? What were you most surprised to learn about the city after moving here?
I moved to Louisville from Asheville, NC, for my job at UofL. I was eager to be in a larger city with more professional and personal growth opportunities. I was also excited to explore a new part of the country.
I was most surprised to learn about the deep and full history of civil rights and social justice in Louisville. It is a city rich with justice fighters, stories and legends. The experience and opportunities to learn from these legends and so many other people at UofL has been nothing short of wonderful!
How do you unplug and recharge?
I have a weekly radical self-care practice that consists of meditation, herbal magic, honoring my ancestors, art, aromatherapy, long walks, a regular practice of silence, whole and healthy foods, acupuncture, massage, mindfulness and being surrounded by people who I deeply love.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
I rise early, meditate and go to the gym. I usually call my family on my walk to work. My week is typically full of meetings with students, committee work, office management and other job-related activities.
I especially love Fridays when my student ambassadors come to the office to work. Our ambassadors are four students who help HLI with programming, events, communication and office management. Our office buzzes with their activity, and the space looks like a campaign under construction. Book bags are spread out, papers are everywhere, and there is lots of work, ideas buzzing and laughter! Last week, they made a promotional video announcing the launch of a scholarship, and the week before, they prepared and sent a proposal to present at a diversity conference about the benefits of peer mentoring.
At night when I lay my head down to rest, I am always grateful for the experiences of the day, my interactions with a wide diversity of people and the opportunities to contribute and grow.
What are three words that describe you?
Passionate. Spiritual. Warrior.
What advice do you treasure?
I once asked a dear friend and mentor, Don Locke, who passed away unexpectedly last year and was a legend in the black community, retired educator and freedom fighter, the following: “Don, when will the institutions of higher education start to care about the Latino and black students as much and we do?” His answer: “Sarah, it will take an incident of injustice for people to step up and do what’s right.”
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my __________.
Aromatherapy spray that I use to cleanse space and uplift my energy.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
I travel a lot, but when I am home, I enjoy seeing live music and dancing, experiencing art wherever I can find it and trying new food. I am still searching for my favorite tacos in Louisville.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Walk over the pedestrian bridge and through the amazing parks!
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
What are three of your favorite things right now (besides God, family and friends)?
iTunes music, my altar and hoop earrings!
Thank you to Adele Reding Photography for the wonderful photos.
Read about more inspiring women in Louisville in our FACES of Louisville weekly features here.