Student activist on dreaming big

Mariela Frias discusses her busy college years as a multifaceted leader, her dreams, and hopes for future WSU students


Frias has tried all kinds of opportunities to expand her enjoyment and wonder, she said. However, her most prized position out of all was being an orientation counselor, hearing from students how she helped them grow in the short time she had with them, she said.

MADDY BEAN, Evergreen reporter

Being able to find your authentic self is something most people strive for in college. For senior and activist Mariela Frias, she’s had a long time to discover who that is, through all the things she has been involved in at WSU.

Frias, a comparative ethnic studies major, was born in Puerto Rico but raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She grew up in a crowded household, with her grandmother to raise her. She believes that her life here at WSU happened for a reason, despite initially planning on going to other schools.

“I don’t know if I would’ve gotten the same experience or have really pushed myself in the same ways that I have pushed myself here,” Frias said. “I think that’s something that’s really beautiful.”

What’s kept her coming back though, she said, is the community — all the people she’s met, as well as all the things she has been involved in. She joined hall government her freshman year, joined the resident hall association (which she was the vice president of programming and then executive president of), became a resident adviser, worked for ASWSU as the director of Diversity and Inclusion and Equity, ran for Crimson student body, joined Emerging Leaders, went to various multicultural clubs and organizations, worked as a leader for freshmen orientation last summer, is the current co-chair of BSU’s Visionaries Inspiring Black Empowered Students conference and more.

“I honestly have done it all,” Frias said. “That’s why I’ve loved my experience here. I’ve literally done everything that I have wanted to do. And yes, I might not have gotten all of the opportunities that I shot my shot for, but at the end of the day, I still went for it. And that’s what counts.”

Frias has also been involved with the multicultural sorority Alpha Nu for the past few years. Her sorority sister, senior humanities major Alondra Herrera, said she became a close friend of Frias because she can confide in her kindness, and that Frias is someone who really knows how to speak for the people.

“One thing that I admire about her, is that she’s able to … use everybody’s voice, and make sure that everybody’s thoughts and opinions are heard, although she may or may not agree,” Herrera said. “She’s very diplomatic, determined and has good leadership [skills].”

After all of the experiences that Frias has had, she is trying to put her all out there for others, she said. As a woman of color and an activist, Frias is working hard to get the changes she is striving for in her community. However, she said, sometimes people like her need breaks, too.

“We get burnt out so quickly … There are so many things that need to be done to help people of color, and there’s not a lot of people with the energy to do it,” Frias said. “[But] we have to find empathy within ourselves to give to others, because it’s unfair for us not to seek change for other people.”

Psychology and women’s studies junior Kaylana Miller met Frias as an RA and developed a closeness with her through their time as orientation counselors. Though it is Frias’ intellect, conscientious and worldly mind that make her stand out as a friend, Miller said.

“She provides intellectually stimulating conversations,” Miller said. “There’s never a conversation like, ‘Oh, the weather’s nice outside.’ It’s always, like, the political climate and things like that. She provides a lot of insight and worldly views … it’s very meaningful to have a friendship that goes deeper than just surface level things.”

Frias has tried all kinds of opportunities to expand her enjoyment and wonder, she said. However, her most prized position out of all was being an orientation counselor, hearing from students how she helped them grow in the short time she had with them, she said. She said she loves to hear the direct impact she can have on people from being herself.

“When you’re showing these new faces what WSU is all about, and you look in your eyes, see what used to be a part of you, and you see that they themselves can be better than what you had done here? That is beautiful … I know that WSU is going to be in good hands,” Frias said.

In the future, Frias said she sees herself being the CEO of her own nonprofit, starting an organization that creates unique and diverse workplaces, writing her own book, and helping to build communities.

Currently she is seeking employment with Twitter, to be a recruiter for a place that provides such a space for voices, in her opinion. Though it’s all a bit scary, Frias said, she dreams big, and said she will strive to achieve whatever she can.

“I went so long, trying to hide who I am,” Frias said. “Whether it’s my personality—I’m too outspoken, I’m too bold, I’m loud, I’m proud—, my identities pertaining to my sexuality, my race and ethnicity being an Afro-Latinx. I went through a long time of hiding who I am. And when I came to college, I felt like I didn’t have to hide anymore. I just had to be me.