While discussing the role Fuerza plays at SUNY Plattsburgh, President Jade Estremera focuses on one particular theme: providing a family away from home.
Fuerza: The Black and Latinx Student Union, also known simply as Fuerza, has long dedicated itself to fostering an environment of solidarity, activism and conversation surrounding a vast range of issues— usually pertaining to racial justice. Its central goal is to help students find their voice and speak out about the causes that matter most to them. However, Estremera emphasized, sometimes Fuerza’s job can be as simple as encouraging a feeling of togetherness.
“There’s a reason we’re sometimes called the Fuerza family,” Estremera said. “We want to help everyone feel like they’re part of a community of people who care about them and will support them.”
Fuerza was originally founded nationwide in 1990, and its chapter in Plattsburgh was established in 2001. However, due to initial lack of participants, the student union remained generally inactive. It was revived in 2016 with far more popularity and support among the student body as well as grander ambitions of becoming a true force for change on campus.
Estremera joined as a freshman and served as the organization’s event coordinator as a sophomore, driven by her passion for planning and leading teams. By the end of her sophomore year, she had grown in her confidence that she could bring fresh, effective changes to the club. Junior year she took over as the president of Fuerza.
“I had a vision for the club, and I believed I could make it work,” Estremera said. “I wanted to encourage greater professionalism and help organize events that excited more people on campus. Also, the two presidents before me had both been men, and I believed it was time for a woman to take charge of the club as well.”
Under her presidency, Fuerza has taken on the responsibility of helping educate students on campus about various issues relating to multiple facets of social justice. For example, the organization has hosted a panel on women’s issues, focusing on examples of everyday inequality and problems faced by women such as the gender wage gap and the costliness of female hygiene products.
“Students know when there’s something serious going on in the world, they know what club would address it immediately,” Alyssa Ferriera, the Fuerza secretary, said.
The advent of the pandemic in spring 2020 had left several members devastated, according to Estremera, because of how much everyone in Fuerza loved organizing in-person events. However, Fuerza proved resilient, hosting several live sessions on Instagram to continue informing and enlightening students about deep-seated societal issues, many of which had been further exacerbated by the pandemic.
During the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020, Fuerza was at the forefront of encouraging activism, engagement and healing in Plattsburgh. Apart from publicizing statistics and information pertaining to ongoing trends of police brutality and racial bias, the student union also organized and helped students participate in marches and protests in a wide range of locations.
Fuerza leaders made sure to provide disclaimers before embarking on such protests, keeping in mind that such activities can be a source of anxiety and discomfort for people who still want to be involved in racial justice efforts. Hence, the union provided other opportunities for students to make their voices heard, such as Instagram Live sessions during which people could share their feelings in a safe and comfortable manner.
This platform for self-expression provided by Fuerza has greatly benefited numerous members, allowing them to become more expressive and more open.
“Before joining the club I was like a turtle shy in its shell,” Ferreira said. “Now that I’m almost done with my four years here, I’m the complete opposite. The club alone has helped me in my personal and professional life.”
Estremera recalled one particular event that highlighted the sense of family that Fuerza strived to foster. Near the beginning of February 2020, the university hosted a speak-out event in the Memorial Hall during which students had the chance to voice opinions about how campus life could improve. Estremera reflected on how Fuerza members made sure to support each other and have each other’s back all throughout the event, offering encouragement to not only fellow members but students outside the club as well.
“We want people to know that no matter whether you’re in Fuerza or not, we will always be there to cheer you on and help you realize you belong,” Estremera said. “Like I said before, we’re a family away from home.”