Framed by shoulder length black hair, Beatriz Gutierrez’s large brown eyes are balanced on her heart-shaped face with a wide smile that’s easily provoked by everything from Mexican candy to the TV show Bones. She speaks softly and slowly – her laugh loud and carefree.
On a given jaunt through campus, she’ll likely pass three or four people she knows. Gutierrez always greets them with a wave and a smile, often stopping to engage in conversation. Her brown eyes twinkle as she listens to what they have to say.
The University of Oregon’s newest student body president considers personal connection the first step toward building a tighter campus community.
“I think we need to care more about each other in a general sense, asking questions like ‘How many loans do you have? How does that affect you?’ Because I have them. Seeing those similarities,” Gutierrez said. “The way I see the ASUO working is by beginning to show people that we can care about each other because that’s the only way to succeed.”
Members of her campaign say that attitude helped her win this year’s presidential election. Volunteers for other slates started to taper off after the first week of voting sealed their fate as senators. Regardless of senate wins or losses, Ducks for a Difference representatives banded together, campaigning through a second week of runoff voting to a presidential win marked by a margin of more than 700 votes.
“The only reason that campaign was able to push to the last election was because of the relationships that we were able to build with one another. At any moment the slate members would have been able to leave Beatriz, but they were still willing to support her,” said Jaki Salgado, Gutierrez’s cousin and campaign manager. “She built an environment of being conscious of who you’re working with on both a work and personal level, and genuinely caring and supporting each other the best way possible.”
Gutierrez’s community orientation is driven by her large family. One of five children from a traditional Mexican household in Trail, Oregon, her favorite family memories are of get-togethers where she was surrounded by her siblings, parents, aunts and uncles.
She thrives in a community of care and hopes to replicate that family dynamic on campus.
“Coming to the university was a big shock for me, because I come from a big family and I need that big support system and people who care about me,” Gutierrez said. “I think that’s come over also to my smaller community with the multicultural center and the unions. The multicultural center is a bigger network of people who feel safe around each other and that has been my community. I feel like everyone should have a community like that.”
Though she envisions an inclusive campus community for all, her advocacy to increase representation and prominence for minority groups has prompted accusations of racism.
“A lot of people say I’m racist and think that I just focus on people’s differences — I heard that a lot during the campaign,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t think they’re seeing it right. We have to focus on similarities. We’re in this together, but to make those bonds strong we also need to acknowledge our differences. One person’s oppression is related to the next person’s. Everybody’s oppression is not the same, but it’s all kind of intertwined.”
Conquering oppression has been Gutierrez’s prerogative since her first day at the university when she volunteered by a class rap without a second thought. Since then, Gutierrez has taken on a number of projects like lobbying for tuition equity legislation in Salem, testifying about the need for increased funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant — part of the scholarship package that keeps her in school — and helping organize an Oregon Student Association vote campaign that broke the record for the number of voters registered on campus both in Oregon and organization-wide.
It was her work ethic, honesty and passion that lead Gutierrez’s chief of staff, Lamar Wise, to prod her to run for ASUO president, after his own campaign fell short the year before.
“At first she actually didn’t want to run for president. I had to spend a lot of time trying to convince her … I think that’s what made her perfect for it. I didn’t want anyone to be president who would do it for themselves,” Wise said. “She was doing it for the people that were surrounding her and the students that didn’t have a voice. That’s the only reason she would do it — if other people were being affected and she saw that there was a great need. It’s hard, but she kept her mind on the big picture, which is fighting for other people.”
Gutierrez sees leading as a learning experience. She doesn’t love the spotlight and isn’t fond of public speaking. Despite her reservations, she took on the presidency because she believes it can ultimately help other people.
“It was not easy for her to go through with the campaign. But she did it and she won it. And she’s really happy with that,” Gutierrez’s older sister, Laura, said. “It’s really nice to think about her taking on this role because she’ll take it on seriously and think about how, as a woman of color, or a woman of lower income, she’s going to bring on a new perspective and really give voice to the students on campus.”
Diana Salazar, a senior who has worked with Gutierrez for the last two years both on voting campaigns and at the Multicultural Center, says it’s that respect for responsibility that gives her faith that Gutierrez will lead the ASUO well.
“We often have this very traditional form of leadership and I think she challenges all of that and pushes the narrative. She definitely puts a lot of work and passion into what she does, but in the most humble way,” Salazar said. “That to me is a very good leader, someone who can provide direction and guidance while leaving room for others to develop.”
Indeed, it’s when Gutierrez talks about others that her smile gets the widest and the glint of passion becomes unmistakeable in her brown eyes.
“I don’t have a lot of personal projects. I’m starting to build a list of things I want to check in with – but I want to see a lot of my staff accomplish something and feel like they’ve made a difference on campus,” she said. “There are so many people who are so passionate, and I want to make sure that they are doing whatever they can to feel like they’ve accomplished something. Because that’s what keeps you going.”