Meet a Local Leader: Sergio Perez

Sergio Pérez (he/him/el) is a first generation Mexican-American Queer cisgender man born in Chicago.

He was born to immigrant parents from Coahuila, México. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and international studies from Loras College and Master’s in Education in student affairs administration and higher education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He was a 2016 nominee for the President’s Diversity Award at California Polytechnic State University-SLO. He is working toward his doctorate degree in higher education and leadership studies from Edgewood College.

He was named a member of the BizTimes Rising Stars class of 2019 in Dubuque. Under his leadership, the Loras College Center for Inclusion & Advocacy was awarded the 2019 NASPA Region IV Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and was awarded honorable mention for the 2020 NCAA Inclusion Award.

He is involved with Iowa’s League of United Latin American Citizens as the state’s DEI committee chair and chaplin. In his free time, Perez loves to explore Chicago’s nightlife, loves to eat, visit with friends and family and travel to México as much as possible. He is a believer in educators becoming the role models we needed when we were younger.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

I can name two: My parents have been fantastic influences on me as I continue to develop as a leader. Maria and Andres Pérez both came to the United States to seek a different chance of opportunity than what they could find in Mexico. They knew zero English, had zero family in the USA and had zero money to start with. They both came to the United States and learned a new culture that taught them the importance of taking advantage of any opportunity presented and to work hard and not be discouraged. My passion for my work, my education in understanding the lived experience of those both alike and unlike me is something I learned from their immigrant journey to the United States.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? The most important decisions I make at Loras is the kind of programming that will be offered to students. I am hopeful to provide education and offerings that allow Latinx, Black, LGBTQIA+ and first generation college students to see themselves represented in a holistic, active and positive light. These decisions are the most important ones I make — ones that bring all the different vibrant communities at Loras together.

As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? We have to inspire the institution. We have to present new ideas that imagine a better experience and a deeper connection to learning and community. We have the privilege of working with young adults in college who have new ideas all the time, who bring new energy and new interests. we are a place of higher education that follows the interests of our Duhawks and so we simply tap into this energy to keep our energy and innovation up.

Which is more important to your organization – mission, core values or vision? I think all of our pieces, our mission, values and vision are all interconnected and inform one another. We are a Catholic institution that seeks to build greater knowledge and greater opportunity for all who seek it. We are a college that seeks to build community across difference and honoring the different ways we show up. I don’t believe we are able to say one is more important than the other, rather what is important is that we don’t lose sight of either aspect of our institutional identity.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Every leader should have equity-minded empathy. Every leader should seek to see what the lived experiences are of everyone involved in their organization. We should seek to understand how and why we and others show up the way we do. This is important as we try to build an organization that gives each person the unique supports they need to be successful.

What advice to you have for future leaders? Subscribe to the idea of cultural humility, that there is no way you alone could ever know the full extent of a lived experience of someone other than yourself. Your story is not the only story of the world, it’s not the normal. With this understanding, the idea of seeking to understand others comes in full force to be able to fully support staff within the organization.

What lessons can leaders take away from the current pandemic? We need to remember the humanity we all bring together in what is everyone’s first major global pandemic. Spend quality time with family and friends and voice your appreciation and love you have for people when they are alive, not when they have passed.

What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? Being a responsible leader has the benefits of feeling the confidence your organization or staff will have with you. The ability to visualize and manage an idea through to execution is amazing when the organization believes in the direction and believes they’ll be part of the process, the full support feeling is amazing. I also would share that I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to role model and mentor other professionals on how I’ve navigated higher education as a first gen college grad who is Latinx and Queer, the ability to show my community that we can succeed and navigate a world that hasn’t always celebrated these identities.