Humans of Etown: Stepf Diaz

Stepf Diaz [center] surrounded by her student workers at the Mosaic House. [photo taken December 2017]
Every friend group has the mom friend and every girl scout troop has its den mother. A large group of students here at Etown have a campus mom. Stepf Diaz, the coordinator of multicultural programming and residential communities, is in charge of the Mosaic House on campus. The Mosaic House is a safe space, being the home away from home for people of different races, sexualities, and whatever else. Stepf, in charge of it all, became like the mom away from mom for many students here.

Empathy is Stepf’s number one strength and it shows. People go to her office often to talk to her and she genuinely tries to help them how she can. She helps organize so many events on campus focusing on diversity, inclusion, and the breaking of the cycle of oppression. Stepf goes above and beyond to make the Mosaic House into a mosaic home, to make people who visit there feel comfortable.

“There’s this theory in sociology called ‘othermothering,’” Stepf told me, reminding me that she went to college at Shippensburg University for sociology and social work. Othermothering is this concept that naturally empathetic and “motherly” women will take on the role of the mother in a community, typically when its a community made up of people from marginalized groups and the “mother” intersects on a few of those groups. Stepf is Puerto Rican, a lesbian and is very prideful and open about both of those parts of herself. Both students of color and of the LGBTQ+ community can look to her and find someone who gets it, someone who they can feel safe venting to.

Stepf has always been a mother hen, even as a kid. Her younger siblings were four, seven, and ten years younger than her. She was the mom friend in her friend groups growing up. When she went to Shippensburg, this continued. Peers in her own year called her mom and people in the year below her called her grandma.

“Once I had someone say to me ‘Grandmama, it’s me, Anastasia.’” Stepf said with all the dramatic flair of the animated character in the film Anastasia who is known for that same line.

Students on campus, particularly students living in Stonewall, students in NOiR, and her student workers, call her mom. I think I started joining in on it at first jokingly, but as time went on, I realized how much I believed that term fit her. Stepf takes care of people.

My freshman year at Etown, I went to watch the 2016 election results at the Mosaic House. There were about 40 people in that house that night, we all knew we had class in the morning, but we were all too afraid to go home yet that night. Stepf brought two of her cats to the house to help people with emotional distress, she stayed at the house until 4 a.m. that morning and offered to drive people home. I barely knew her at all at that point. I remember everyone I saw crying their eyes out in that house that night. Stepf brought us all to the house to help us feel that sense of community, that we were going to survive no matter the results. It was a rough night, but I think Stepf saved us that night.

After that night, I heard people calling her “mom” and it made sense. When I started working for her in the fall, it felt real. She is my boss first, but never have I had a boss that cared so much about me. Never have I known anyone else who cared so deeply about so much and about so many people at once. I realize the obvious biases I’m showing here, but I and so many others on this campus owe so much to Stepf Diaz and are so grateful for all of the amazing things she has done for us.

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