RIT/NTID Diversity Spotlight

Full name of the subject of the spotlight.

[ID: Portrait of Denise Herrera]

Denise Herrera ‘04


Interpreter and Program Coordinator, Randleman Program

NTID Department of Access Services

After graduating with a psychology degree in 2004, Dee returned to work as a TA for one year. In 2005, she learned to sign because she interacted with the deaf community often. She then decided to become an interpreter. Received her AAS in 2007 ASL in interpreting and got her bachelor’s in 2008. She was hired full time in 2007, worked full time and obtained her bachelor’s, and has been at RIT ever since.    

If you could describe being a woman in one word, what would it be? 
That’s a question you think would be easy, but it’s not. I can tell a thousand tales.

“Phenomenal.” Maya Angelou’s poem explains it perfectly.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
I feel like it’s complex. I’m the daughter of an immigrant from another country. I feel like half of me celebrates America and half of me celebrates Latin America.

Not only in the U.S.A., but in the world, there are so many phenomenal women whose history needs to be shared. Many leaders have been left out and they are just as important. We really make the world turn and keep moving. It’s interesting learning more about people we tend to forget. There have been great Black women who have made strides. For example, I loved learning more about Fannie Lou Hamer. Her story is amazing—she is a woman who fought for her rights and the rights of all Black people. For her voice to be seen and heard—that kind of power is astonishing. She fought hard and didn’t care what happened to her life. She left an impact and I really value those types of women in history. It’s important to recognize people who haven’t had the honor of having worldwide recognition.

We know Harriet Tubman, we know Sojourner Truth, but there are so many women who fought for our equal rights for all—and not only for women—that we easily forget.

We get so engulfed in life that we don’t take time to sit back and learn more about our history. That’s what Women’s History Month allows me to do: learn more. Sadly, our education system is not always inclusive. There are native women fighting right now for their rights, there are women in other countries fighting for reproductive rights.  We just tend to not recognize it often because it sort of measures our value in society. I’ll take it…the month to learn more.

Name a woman or heroine who inspires you and why?
There are so many women in different fields that it’s hard to name one.

If you were to ask me about women in specific fields, such as art, medicine, and sports, I could name so many in each field and they’re all so powerful. I love having all those women to look up to because it’s like, “Hey, I can make an impact, too!” Sometimes it feels like women only have themselves, but when you take a look around, you can see that they’re out there making a difference. They’re human, they are out here working and empowering themselves.

I’m inspired by everyday women too. My sister Stephanie Parades… I don’t know how many roles she has held and currently holds, but her work is phenomenal. Not only can we look up to people like her, we’re inspired by each other and I think that’s an important part of it all. I always want to compliment women and say, “Yes! Keep it going!” because most of the time, our work isn’t quite purposefully ignored by people, but it also isn’t displayed the way it needs to be.
Additionally, I’m inspired by Dr. Alesia Allen and her journey. Kristi Love and her journey. But really, everyone’s journey is important to share. Use the time to share that with each other. I feel like that matters the most.

What assumptions about women would you like to see change?
The concept of monolithic, that women are all the same and we tend to do similar things. We are capable of many things. I want to include my trans women, support them and let them know that they’re beautiful and a part of our community. 

Assumptions limit us; therefore, I don’t want any assumptions. See me for who I am, don’t assume. Develop an approach where you don’t have set expectations for us. Look at our current Vice President. Look at AOC, a politician. We have Oprah, a billionaire. All are powerful women and there’s no reason to make assumptions on what we’re capable of handling.

Leave that in the past.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m proud to be doing what I love. I followed my heart. It was scary because I obtained a psychology degree, thinking I’d be a clinical psychologist doing research and getting a Ph.D. I changed my trust in myself and diverted my attention to something that ignited a path to become an interpreter. I felt inside that it was a good decision. I kept going.

If I hadn’t done that, and had been too scared, I can’t imagine what my life would be like today. It’s strange to think. Happiness and being proud of what I do. I enjoy life because I have a lot of joy from the work I do. Not only in interpreting, but working with the Randleman Program (RP) fulfills me.

My hope is that my work helps spread the good work we are doing in RP. I want more people to feel supported. I didn’t always have it when I was an interpreter just starting out. I was missing something. I had the deaf community’s support and there isn’t a price on that. If I had the Randleman Program back then, it would have been perfect. Being one of the founders of this program that opens the door for interpreters of color is wonderful. Some POC may feel like they can’t be interpreters because not everyone looks like them. It’s easy to throw in the towel, and say, “I quit,” but no, our program allows interpreters of color to feel included. That’s my impact on the world. I’m proud of that.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust yourself. Your gut is there, it has been working for a while and supporting you and your experiences. Trust your heart too. Sometimes the brain can interrupt the heart with emotions, but sometimes the decisions aren’t the smartest or logical… pay attention to your heart saying, “I want that. I want to continue. I want that type of environment. I want to learn more.”

Respect yourself. Remember that you need to respect others, but respect yourself. You have the right to self care, the right to rest, the right to explore new ideas. If it doesn’t work, then it’s okay, you tried. If you don’t try, you will never know.

That’s a cliché thing to say, you can see it plastered on cups. Most times people don’t do things because of fear. It’s hard to overcome and beat, but you think “later”—when is later?

How has RIT/NTID aided you in your professional or academic journey? What resources have you utilized on campus that have positively impacted your journey?
It’s funny, they call me the resource queen. I love sharing resources. Like, hey, do you know this and that is happening?

RIT’s impressive talent roadmap, many workshops online that I watch have good advice for team building. My role is always transforming. I learn more about emotional intelligence, working with students, and different training. I actively participate in Taj Smith’s Cultural Humility certificate program. I’m actively participating in those, not only interpreting it. My department also offers different workshops ranging from Native American and Indigenous workshops to workshops about ComicCon.

I love that RIT has WOCHA and MOCHA. I look at my experience here and I wish I had that back then, but I’m happy that we have it now. I just really love RIT’s commitment to continuous learning. 

Share a fun fact about yourself.
It’s funny because I’m very open about my life, so what is there to share? Something random? I’ve always loved plants, but during the COVID-19 outbreak, I developed a love for plants. My mom used to be obsessed with plants.

I also really love pictures. My house is full of photos and art. It feels like a museum—it helps me feel at home and is my safe space. I love memories and looking at pictures of friends and family. Simply put, it’s a jungle and museum in one!