Sarah Hernandez is a longtime professor of sociology at New College. One of her brothers serves as Mexico’s ambassador to Greece, and her sister heads the diversity office at another college. But it’s been a long journey for Hernandez and her siblings to their career successes.
Hernandez, 53, credits her parents as role models for her involvement in issues like immigrant rights, voting rights and more. “My mother was a white Jewish woman from Philadelphia, who converted to Quakerism and went to do social service work in Mexico,” says Hernandez.“My father had a humble background, from a small town in Mexico, where he came across the work the Quakers were doing there, building schools and teaching hygiene, and he also converted.” Part of her father’s bloodline derives from Mexico’s indigenous people; while he first went to elementary school in his native village wearing no shoes, he eventually worked his way towards studying for a master’s degree at Harvard, ultimately becoming a sociologist.
That was not Hernandez’s original path; she wanted to be a biologist. But in her first college sociology class, “I found it different from what I expected it to be, and it spoke deeply to me.” She received her master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, through a program committed to helping people of color receive their doctorates.
All that experience has helped shape her role in Sarasota, where she mentors low-income, first-generation Latino students through the UnidosNow Future Leaders Academy, preparing them for the college application process and making them aware of the scholarship possibilities open to them. She also works with the recently formed Sarasota Anti-Racism Working Group and the local Quaker congregation, which addresses the needs of homeless people and supports environmental causes. And, prior to last fall’s elections, she penned an op-ed column for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune supporting a raise for minimum wage workers.
“My interest has always been to be somebody who contributes to social justice,” Hernandez says. “I’m involved in the spaces where I see I can be most effective.”