Yalitza Ramos isn't new to the Campus Y space.
Since her time as an undergraduate at UNC, Ramos has been making connections with local organizations, approaching her career through a social justice lens and considering how to make the University a place where every student feels a sense of belonging.
She earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and Spanish from UNC in 2005 and returned for her master’s in social work in 2014. Ramos came back to campus for a third time in 2017, this time to serve as assistant director of the Campus Y and director of the Bonner Leaders program.
In January 2020, she became the interim director of the Campus Y.
“It wasn't necessarily my home base at the time when I was an undergrad, but I was really drawn to the overall organization that I didn't realize had so many facets," Ramos said. "And so many organizations were coming out of the Y that were focused on all the things I'm super passionate about."
On Aug. 26, UNC announced that Ramos would serve as the new director of the Campus Y after she had served as interim director for 18 months.
The Campus Y director job is no small task — the responsibilities include supporting 32 student-run committees and providing oversight of the Bonner Leader Program and CUBE, the social innovation initiative.
The director is also tasked with preparing students to engage with the local community and Global Gap Year Fellowship, collaborating with other UNC departments in support of social change.
Part of what made Ramos stand out as a candidate for the Campus Y director position is the connections she had within the community, Bettina Shuford, associate vice chancellor for student engagement, said.
While serving as interim director of the Campus Y, Ramos was also director of the Bonner Leaders Program, which connects work-study students with local organizations and aligns with Ramos’ own deep roots in the community and commitment to public service.
She has worked with multiple local nonprofits and organizations throughout her time at UNC, including Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, the Orange County Literacy Council, the Compass Center for Women and Families and Girls on the Run.
But beyond Ramos' ability to create connections between the campus and community, Shuford said she has a knack for working with students.
“She's a social worker by training, and so she just is a good listener,” Shuford said. “She's able to coach without coaching and guide without being too intrusive, you know, by letting students take the lead but being there to support.”
Patrice McGloin, co-president of the Campus Y, is one of those students who will work closely with Ramos. She said Ramos’ support of student leaders is one of the reasons she felt empowered to pursue the co-presidency position this past year.
McGloin also said Ramos doesn’t just make a point to listen to student voices, but she centralizes those voices in all the work she does.
“One thing that I think is really critical to note is she's a woman of color in this position, and is very dedicated to uplifting the voices of students of color in this space,” McGloin said. “I mean all students, really, but that emphasis is really critical, and I think is often lacking at this University, especially in larger student organizations.
Caroline Collins, co-chairperson of the Carolina Kickoff Campus Y committee, agreed.
She said Ramos was incredibly helpful while she and her co-director planned their annual back-to-school event that introduces students to social justice and student life at UNC.
The event is expensive and involves lots of logistics, and there were times that Collins and her co-director didn’t know how to make certain ideas a reality. And Ramos offered consistent support throughout the process, Collins said.
“She always understood that we were just objectively confused about what we were trying to do, but very gracious every time,” Collins said. “And she listened to us well, and empathized with our stresses as students and as co-directors, and then offered support and solutions in really proactive and tangible ways.”
Ramos said she has plans to break down silos between different areas of campus and connect the Campus Y to multiple departments and community organizations. She also wants to increase engagement between faculty and students at the Campus Y.
“I'd really like to see the Y as a space where students, campus partners and the community feels like this is a space where important dialogues can happen, and where, if an organization is getting a student from the Campus Y, that that means the student is going to have an understanding of certain foundational issues related to social justice,” Ramos said.
Ramos said demystifying social justice and making sure that this understanding spreads throughout campus is a major goal. Above all, she’s looking forward to amplifying student work and connecting with people who pass through the space.
“I'm really looking forward to the Y being a really open and inclusive place for all of our students,” she said. “And really doing the work, the intentional work, to make sure that that's actually true.”
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