More Than a Supervisor: how Romanie Arterberry impacted a campus

Courtesy of Inside UCR

In the office of the Women’s Resource Center’s (WRC) Program Coordinator, Nathaly Martinez, is a calendar for June with important dates. Events written on it include “Raza Graduation,” “Family Graduation” and “Romanie’s Retirement Party!”

After working for 40 years on the UCR campus, Romanie Arterberry, the Student Life and Development Specialist at the WRC, will retire at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. A miniature broken heart marks June 28th as “Romanie’s Last Day”.

When UCR was first established, the slogan on the undergraduate admissions pamphlets read, “the campus with a personal touch.” At that time, the campus had 4,000 students so almost everyone knew each other by name. Now that the campus is at 23,000 students the slogan is no longer used by the school. To Arterberry, however, it’s a philosophy.

“Whoever comes into my office, I treat them like they’re the only student because that’s how I would want my kids to be treated when they were in college,” Arterberry began. “We need to remember that all of us have jobs here because of students. It’s customer service-based, and you want to keep your customers happy. I think sometimes folks lose sight of that, and we need to remember that,” she explained.

Although she was born in Sacramento, Arterberry was raised in Washington D.C. Arterberry’s mother worked three jobs to support her husband while he attended Howard University. Arterberry was introduced to college life early on, since her father would take her to his classes at university. When she was 7 years-old, her family moved from Washington D.C. to Riverside.

Arterberry attended Skadron College of Business in San Bernardino and graduated from its 12-month executive secretarial program. At the time, she wanted to become a secretary because of the job’s glamorous portrayal on TV. Arterberry was 19 years old when she began working in the UCR Department of Nematology as a shorthand secretary for a professor. Her path eventually led to the Vice Chancellor’s Office for Student Affairs.

During her ten years working at the office, Arterberry’s life changed dramatically. She got married and had a son, who was eventually diagnosed with cancer. Arterberry’s first thought was to quit and go stay at home with her son until her supervisor reminded her about employee benefits that could help her support her son’s treatment. Arterberry began to work a part-time job shared with an undergrad student, Ramona Sanchez, who was a single parent. To this day, Sanchez and Arterberry are still friends.

After her son’s recovery, Arterberry wanted to continue working part-time. She left her position at the Vice Chancellor’s office to work part-time in the Counseling Center for three years. In this position, she started a cancer survivors’ support group for faculty and staff. “It wasn’t a counseling group,” she described. “(We were) just people who shared the issue of cancer, whether they knew someone who had it or they were experiencing it themselves. It gave us a chance to support each other.”

When a part-time job opened up at the WRC, Arterberry applied and was hired as the administrative assistant. After the WRC programmer during that time left, Arterberry took over the position. Shortly after, she became the advisor for the Campus Safety Escort Service (CSES) and advised its 50 student volunteers. Throughout her 26 years working in the WRC, she has been the interim director for the WRC three different times until the hiring of Denise Davis, the current WRC director, in 2016.

Elena Perez, now the coordinator for the Academic Intervention Programs and Tutorial Assistance Programs at the Academic Resource Center (ARC), first met Arterberry when Perez was a programmer at Chicano Student Programs. Perez remembered Arterberry’s creative and innovative programs, like Arterberry’s program that addressed the taboos of tattoos in the workplace. The program consisted of a panel of staff and faculty who had tattoos and discussed the stigma that come with tattoos. While Perez does not have tattoos, she was intrigued and attended the program where she learned about the topic. It was also during this time that Perez considered applying to work at the ARC. Arterberry encouraged Perez to not let the opportunity pass and apply for the position.

Since working at the WRC, Arterberry has felt passionate about its mission and has seen the center’s growth with its creation of the Title IX office and SAVE program. The two WRC  programs she is most passionate about are the CSES and the Vagina Monologues, which she planned and coordinated.

It was during one performance of the Vagina Monologues in 2013 that Nathaly Martinez, then a second-year, introduced herself to Arterberry and became involved with the WRC. When some staff from the WRC were moved to the the newly-established CARE office in June 2016, the WRC experienced a staff shortage. Arterberry advocated for a temporary position for Martinez which became a full-time job when she was hired as Program Coordinator later that year.

Martinez soon came to know Arterberry as a caring and thoughtful friend. When Martinez did not want to go home for Thanksgiving during her third-year for personal reasons, Arterberry welcomed Martinez to join Arterberry’s family for Thanksgiving. While Martinez did not end up going, she still cherishes the moment. “For her, this is not just a job. It’s something that comes from her heart. To me, that was the first time I really felt welcomed and (saw) that she really cared about me as a person,” Martinez explained.  

Many people recognize Arterberry’s advocacy and support for abuse survivors. During her time working in the WRC, Arterberry had helped a graduate student who was in an abusive relationship. The student would use her hair to cover the bruises on her face. After a couple of attempts to leave, the student finally chose to leave for good and Arterberry helped her make a list of the things she would have to do. Weeks later, the student waved at Arteberry on campus and was unrecognizable to her as the student wore a big smile, now visible as her hair no longer covered her face.

Arterberry also helped another student who called her at 2 a.m. after she had been sexually assaulted. Arterberry arrived at the student’s residence hall by 2:30 a.m. “It was painful to see her go through that,” Arterberry said. Now, the student is engaged and will be graduating from a doctorate program in December. “I just get so proud when I look at her because of what she experienced and you know that she hurt so much,” Arterberry shared. “You worry about the students like they’re all your kids.”

Arterberry finds her motivation to work in student affairs from the experiences with all the students she has helped. She finds it impactful when someone comes back to tell her that they left an unhealthy relationship. “It drives you to come to work every morning because you never know when that one student is going to come across your path that needs that help,” explained Arterberry.

As an advisor for the student parent organization R’Kids, Arterberry has also been an advocate for students with children, something that arose from her experience job sharing with Sanchez when she worked at the Vice Chancellor’s office. Ambar Osario, a UCR alumna with a bachelor’s in fine arts and student parent, first met Arterberry when she joined R’Kids at the beginning of her first-year. During Osario’s undergrad experience, many parents in R’Kids felt they were disrespected and unvalued by the director of the Child Development Center. Arterberry set up and facilitated a meeting between the director, student parents and the Vice Chancellor. The meeting was significant, as the parents finally felt respected at the Child Development Center. “I’m very glad I graduated last year, so I don’t have to experience UCR without Romanie,” Osario stated during Arterberry’s Retirement Celebration on June 12th.

Richard Ho, a fourth-year philosophy major, was a shy student until Arterberry taught him how to engage with people and be himself. Ho had been a volunteer in the CSES his four years at UCR and would visit the WRC often. He became a coordinator for the CSES at the end of his second year where he got to know Arterberry who grew to be a friend and a mother figure to him. Every morning, Ho would walk into Arterberry’s office to say “Hi,” catch up on their lives, and share their passion for baking. Arterberry would also advise Ho whenever challenges arose while he was a coordinator for CSES. “I would not see myself how I am now without her. Without Romanie I don’t think I would have been able to pick up those skills,” Ho stated.

In 2017, Arterberry began to consider the possibility of retiring after her father passed away in July of that same year. On top of that, her mother was experiencing health concerns. It was then that Arterberry began to feel a need to be with her family at this point in her life.

Arterberry leaves the WRC in the capable hands of young staff such as Martinez and Davis, full of new and different ideas. Arterberry commented, “I just recognize that my season here is over. I love (working at the WRC), and I will miss it. UCR has been my life for forty years. It helped me be the person I am today.”

As a teenager, Arterberry wanted to leave Riverside because it was for “old and retired people.” “That’s what I am,” she joked as she talked to me inside her office at the WRC. Arterberry’s collection of 50 magnets and pictures on the top shelf cabinets had been taken down and replaced with a pinboard full of pictures.

Months before retiring, Arterberry still helps many students grow. Katia Mejia, a third-year public policy major, is one of the last few students that Arterberry mentored. Mejia was assigned to work in the WRC in spring quarter through Undocumented Student Programs’ The Butterfly Project. Arterberry helped Mejia create the program Undocu Sisters Talk, taught her how to speak in front of a group and lead the program. “I’m going to miss Romanie so much,” began Mejia. “She was welcoming, helpful and a true mentor.”

Arterberry is still unsure of what she will do with the rest of her life after retiring. For now, she knows she wants to catch up with friends who are also retired, come back to help with the Vagina Monologues and pick a place to volunteer at. Also on her list is sleeping in until 8 a.m. and going to a matinee screening just because she can.

Martinez will move into Arterberry’s office. While it will be tough for Martinez to match Arterberry’s magnet collection, Martinez considers it to be a blessing and honor to take Arterberry’s place. “I feel like it’s going to be my safe haven knowing she was there and people know its a safe space,” Martinez stated.

Arterberry’s legacy will also mark the office as a whole. To celebrate Arterberry’s work, the lounge in the WRC is being renamed the “Romanie Arterberry Student Lounge.”

Arterberry’s impact on campus was not visible or physical. It was emotional. Many faculty, staff and students felt the influence of Arterberry’s loving and caring nature. “People think about impact and they think of what can you see,” Perez stated. “I think all of us who had the opportunity to interact with Romanie feel the impact and that’s hard to show.”

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