To commemorate Women’s History Month, NIU Today is publishing a series of articles highlighting faculty, staff, students, alumni and programs that make an impact at NIU and beyond.
What began 20 years ago as a program to support Northern Illinois University’s sizable population of Latinx students has grown into a student-led collective and institutional model for shared governance.
De Mujer a Mujer, founded in 2002 and previously run by NIU’s Latino Resource Center, became a formally recognized Student Organization this year. However, the group has long been a collective of emerging Latina leaders for the benefit of women across NIU’s campus — in the classroom and beyond.
“De Mujer a Mujer was one of the first groups I joined my first semester of freshman year,” said Maricela Cruz, vice president of the org and a senior nursing major from West Chicago. “I was shy at the beginning, but it really helped me to make connections and come out of my comfort zone. I’ve seen a lot of progress made throughout these four years, especially now that we’re recognized as a student org.”
Cruz recalls President Guzette Espinal-Angulo, also a nursing major, joining with her as a new Huskie.
“I was drawn to De Mujer a Mujer at Orientation over the summer — and found myself surrounded by people who are likeminded and friendly and inviting,” said Espinal-Angulo, who is from Aurora and has minors in nutrition, wellness and gerontology in addition to a major in nursing. “I remember the first icebreaker getting to know Maricela at the LRC, and it’s been a long journey growing together. Our former president started this process to becoming a student organization last year, and it’s given us the ability to lead the group the way that we want to.”
De Mujer a Mujer is poised for a pivotal year as students helm the org through a cycle of self-directed events and programs. Perhaps the best-known annual event produced by the executive board is the Women’s Empowerment Conference, set for Saturday, April 2 at the Holmes Student Center’s Sky Room. More than a hundred high school and college women attended virtually in 2021 — and registration for this year’s event remains open through Friday, March 25, or beyond until spaces are full.
“Our organization exists today because NIU specifically saw Latina women not coming back their second year or graduating at the same or better rates as some of the other student groups,” said Isabel Siguenza-Baker, public relations chair and a senior transfer from New York with a major in business administration. “We are proud to be part of the force helping De Mujer a Mujer continue to grow into an academic, cultural and social outlet as a student organization.”
While De Mujer a Mujer’s mission is to help Latinas and all women at NIU persist as Huskies, the organization is open to all students on campus who feel welcome in a woman-centered space.
“We try to put our members first, and ask for people’s opinions about the workshops and offerings they want to see from De Mujer a Mujer,” said Ayleen Ramos, secretary of the org and a junior from Carol Stream with a major in communicative sciences and disorders, as well as a double minor in special education foundations and family and child studies. “Something we do that’s really popular is called Girl Talk, which is kind of like a group therapy session with Counseling and Consultation Services. It’s a safe place to ask questions, have conversations and build friendships with people who look like you.”
Members of De Mujer a Mujer enjoy development and service opportunities, as well as chances to network and grow skills in cultural and gender competencies. In addition to its annual conference and regular programmes, the org meets Wednesdays from 5-6 pm
“Our focus is on building a community of women where we can feel comfortable and represented,” said Community Service Chair Jocelynne Escontrias, a transfer and a senior elementary education major with an ESL dual-language endorsement. “I’ve found a strong support system of friends here, and resources to be successful when I graduate.”
Still housed in the LRC, De Mujer a Mujer’s student leadership and members have met virtually throughout the pandemic, but the group has started returning to face-to-face formats.
To learn more, contact the staff advisor, Angélica Mendoza, who also serves as assistant director for Undocumented Student Support at NIU. Follow De Mujer a Mujer on Instagram for their latest news.