Sophomore psychology major Sarah Aguilar’s goal from a young age was to help people in need. She will continue pursuing her dreams advocating for the needs of students as she becomes the first female, Hispanic student trustee on the Board of Trustees for Illinois State University.

From the moment she stepped on campus in 2016, Aguilar began with her role as an advocate, becoming a Student Government Association senator for East Campus her freshman year. She has jumped in as a Preview guide, a Welcome Week intern, a peer instructor for University College, and a social media influencer for the Division of Student Affairs, where she works with the Dean of Students Office.

“I was looking for a new challenge,” Aguilar said of her decision to throw her hat in the ring for the Board of Trustees post. “I’ve found a love of representing students’ voices, so running for student trustee was my next step to make a difference on this campus.”

Realizing that students may not know that there is a student trustee—or a Board of Trustees—Aguilar said her goal is to educate students about the role and its importance in decisions that impact students. In the past, Aguilar has been to the state capitol to meet with legislators on funding MAP grants. She noted she hopes to make more trips to address subjects such as capital funding for projects like the Center for Visual Arts, and proposed projects, such as the multicultural center.

The Board of Trustees, in place since 1996, has seven trustees appointed by the governor to six-year terms, along with one student trustee elected by their peers to a one-year term. Unlike the student trustees at many other schools, Aguilar will be a voting member.

“I’m most interested in representing the underrepresented students,” she said, noting she can directly relate to the experiences and backgrounds of my fellow students. “We attend a predominantly white institution and I want to make sure that people understand that diversity is more than just your nationality; it is more of what makes you unique.”

Aguilar added she wants to make sure everyone feels equally represented. “At the end of the day we are all human and we deserve the same respect, rights, and opportunities to succeed,” she said.

Her life hasn’t come without challenges. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a difficult relationship ended in high school, Aguilar overcame the trauma with treatment and family support and found her passion. The struggle left her with a stronger understanding of the importance of mental health, and leaving a positive impact on everyone she meets.

“I want people to know that it’s okay to struggle, and it’s okay to have obstacles. I’m not alone with PTSD and I’m not alone with anxiety. I’m blessed to have all my family, friends, and faculty members who have kept pushing me because without them I wouldn’t be here,” said Aguilar, whose life also inspired her major. She plans to pursue her master’s and doctorate in psychology. “My ultimate dream is to work for a university as a psychologist, have my own practice on the side, and also open a nonprofit organization for at-risk youth,” she said.

Of the past 20 student trustees, Aguilar will only be the fourth woman to take the position, and believes women should empower each other. “It’s time for women to stand up and say, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ At the end of the day it is your work ethic, your knowledge, and who is right for the job,” she said. She points to her mother and grandmother as two strong, hardworking, female role models in her life. “They pushed me to not only go to college but seek out leadership positions. They’ve always told me, ‘Your hard work will pay off. Just keep going. I know it’s hard and scary at times, but just never give up, keep pushing, keep following your dreams, and you’ll make it,’” she said.

“That’s why I became so involved at Illinois State; to make them proud, to represent my family, it’s very important to me. I’m doing everything I can to make the most of this opportunity because not everyone is able to attend a four-year college,” Aguilar said.

Growing up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, Aguilar attended schools with very little diversity. Coming to Illinois State offered her insights into what diversity can offer. “I’ve learned that it’s OK to be different, to not look the same as your peers,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re worth any less or that you’re less knowledgeable. I am still going to go for the same opportunities that are presented to the majority. I’ve learned to appreciate my culture more and recognize that diversity is something of which more people should be aware.”

Along with service, Aguilar said she also started giving back to Illinois State by donating to the Student Affairs Diversity and Inclusion Fund. “Giving back to the Diversity Advocacy fund was very important to me because they do such amazing work with programs for underrepresented students. They make them feel like they have a home here, are comfortable, and have their voices heard.”