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EOP, Fuerza Gives Senior Strength, Family, Transformative Experience

People of Plattsburgh

Fuerza in albany

The president of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Black and Indigenous People of Color Student Union embodies its namesake — Fuerza, which means “strength” in Spanish.

shelby dislaShelby Disla, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, left a supportive extended family to attend college in a radically different environment.

“My whole life, I had family downstairs and my grandparents lived a couple blocks away,” Disla said.

Found a Community

On a trip to campus with her family, Disla said she noticed the beautiful view of the mountains from the Adirondack Northway and once on campus, she found her niche among current students she met at an involvement fair.

“It was important to me, going to a college where I felt this type of community, and I got to talk to the people in these (student) groups, and it just felt so good,” Disla said.

During Educational Opportunity Program Summer Institute, Disla said she connected with her fellow EOP students and the caring staff members. She said that starting classes with a good understanding of how college works and with friendships in place made for a smoother transition.

“I would not be here today without EOP,” Disla said. “They saw in me everything I have accomplished way before I accomplished it. They’ve been my family when my family wasn’t able to be here.”

‘Leadership Skills, Collaborative Nature’

“Her leadership skills and collaborative nature stand out,” said Cassie Joseph, director of SUNY Plattsburgh EOP. “She is someone who works to ensure her peers feel supported and heard and provides guidance to those who may be in need.”

Disla, who majors in communication studies and gender and women's studies, said her involvement in Fuerza has been transformative. An executive board of about 14 students plans events, speakers, service work and more.

Fuerza panel discussion“We make sure people leave (meetings) better people than they were when they came in,” Disla said, adding that students immerse themselves in a different topic each time they gather. For instance, one meeting aimed to spread sexual-assault awareness, and members wrote letters of encouragement to sexual-assault survivors.

Glendaliz Espinal, Disla’s friend for most of her college career, is also a member of Fuerza. Espinal, a junior childhood education major, said Disla is an advocate for others, and when something isn’t right, she speaks up on their behalf.

“She’s that friend you can count on. You give her a call, and she’s there. She listens, not just talks,” Espinal said.

And when Espinal needs it, Disla is a “shoulder to cry on. To me, Shelby is everything.”

Service to the Community

shelby disla fuerza soup kitchenBeyond education on social issues, service to the community is a vital component of Fuerza’s mission, Disla said. During the fall 2022 semester, Fuerza served local residents at the Salvation Army soup kitchen and collected more than 70 canned goods for the Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf.

Fuerza raised money for Hope for the Day, a suicide prevention organization, and for Hope for Haiti Foundation, which focuses on improving Haiti’s education, healthcare and water infrastructure. Club members collected more than 184 coloring books for Autism Acceptance Month, donating the books to Manhattan Children’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

When club members inevitably start feeling burned out, Disla guides them back to what she calls their “why,” the reason they participate in the organization. It’s different for every student, she said.

“That reason retriggers the passion for Fuerza. Our work has an impact on us, just as much as it does in our community,” she said.

In May this year, Disla will be the first in her family to graduate with a college degree. She wants to pursue a career as a creative director focusing on social issues.

— By Senior Communications Specialist Felicia Krieg

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