When Dinorah Hernandez arrived at UCI in the fall of 2018, she realized that Irvine was far different from her hometown of Compton. A Mexican-American first-generation college student hailing from a lower income family, she recognized the inequities of living in a city like Compton, where residents have a hard time gaining access to clean water. She found herself in a place of privilege and wanted to use those advantages to help her community.
Hernandez entered UCI as a biological sciences major and switched to environmental science & policy in her second year. She knew before entering college that she was interested in studying the sciences, but she found herself more drawn to the policy aspects and societal effects of the technical sciences she was learning in biology during her first year. Hernandez now studies such policy aspects through the ESP program, which focuses on the intersections between the impacts of human actions on the environment and the impacts of environmental change on society. She is set to graduate this June with a bachelor’s degree in ESP and a minor in political science.
Hernandez is the youngest of four siblings and will be the second child in her family to graduate from university. Though she born in Gardena, she’s grown up in Compton since her family moved there in the first grade. What drives Hernandez is her community.
“Coming from Compton, where for folks it’s hard to have access to be able to participate in [civics], I realized that I have a lot of privilege with being able to go to college, speak English and know about these things that are unjust,” she said. “So, I want to do something about it, because I want my community and my family living in that community to thrive.”
Her minor in political science allows her to further explore the political aspects of social and environmental change. Hernandez has been involved with numerous political campaigns since her time at UCI. She has worked on the ground, handing out flyers and buttons, and phone banking for political candidates.
Hernandez continues to pursue the intersections between politics and the environment. She is an active member of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activist program fighting for the implementation of a new green deal. She joined the UCI-OC chapter of Sunrise first as a political engagement team lead and is now a general member. After completing their Green New Deal campaign, in which Sunrise OC advocated for their local Congressional representative to sign on to the Green New Deal, Hernandez took a step down to focus on her last year at UCI. She spoke recently at a public joint Earth Day rally for the UC Green New Deal and Sunrise OC in front of Aldrich Hall on Friday, April 22.
“[We are] calling for the UC System to implement a Green New Deal, and what that looks like is divestment from fossil fuels,” she said.
On the same day as the rally, Hernandez also hosted a “Tamp Into Reusables” program through UCI’s Womxn’s Center for Success, where she employs her environmental sensibilities while serving as the menstruation equity intern. The internship was created this academic year by the Womxn’s Center and the UCI Sustainability Resource Center, and Hernandez is the first student to hold the position.
As the menstruation equity intern, Hernandez finds ways to educate others on campus about sustainable menstrual options instead of single-use products. Hernandez also researches the menstruation resources available on campus and develops methods to present these resources to other students.
“We knew menstrual products were accessible for students, but the question was ‘How accessible are they? Is this something that the university is doing or are departments [providing the products to students]?’” said Hernandez.
On top of these commitments, Hernandez is also a resident advisor in Middle Earth housing. She has now been an RA for two school years and oversees a hall of student residents, typically freshmen, supporting them as they acclimate to college life.
This academic year, Hernandez also serves as a co-chair for Nuestra Graduacion, a student-run organization that works to provide a Latinx graduation during the Spring commencement season.
“For many [Latinx students], we are in institutions that were not necessarily created for us, and so graduating from a four-year university is something that should be celebrated,” she said.
After graduating this June, Hernandez looks to continue pursuing environmental policy while supporting her community by working for nonprofits that focus on environmental and social justice.
“My goal is to play a role in helping people see what’s happening and then helping them use that information to empower themselves,” she said. “The [nonprofits] I’m interested in, what they have in common is that they work on empowering communities, and I want to be a part of that.”
If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website at https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu. Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The School of Social Ecology plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/uci-school-of-social-ecology/.