Never underestimate the power of LGBTQ+ mentors for queer youth growing up, says AJ Guerrero. Indeed, the relationships that Guerrero, Wellesley’s new coordinator of LGBTQ+ programs and services, forged with these role models created the foundation for the work she does today.
“I believe those strong connections, seeing my mentors who were living their best lives and being authentically themselves modeled for me what I would want to recreate in the relationships I foster with the students I advise,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero was hired as the coordinator of LGBTQ+ programs and services this January, filling a semester-long vacancy of the position. As the LGBTQ+ coordinator, her duties include advising and mentoring LGBTQ+ students in regards to academic, extracurricular or career issues, answering alumnae and parents’ questions regarding LGBTQ+ issues and maintaining the operation of LGBTQ+ cultural spaces on campus. Her office can be found in Acorns House.
Before coming to Wellesley, Guerrero had a plethora of experience working in counseling and LGBTQ+ services. She was a therapist at Boston’s Gay & Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS), which is operated by the Justice Resource Institute. In that position, she delivered trauma-informed and culturally-responsive therapy to LGBTQ+ youth and families. Additionally, she trained therapists and providers in LGBTQ+ responsive care, and taught CPR/AED first aid as an American Red Cross instructor.
How did Guerrero get into this line of work? Her short answer: “by accident.” Yet this wonderful accident had many milestones along the way. As a first year in college, she interviewed to volunteer with her university’s Center for Psychosocial Health research program, specifically for a project that focused on LGBTQ+ communities in the American South. She ended up being hired as a research assistant, and as she made her way up the ladder, she was able to reorient her research by focusing on underrepresented communities — LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV — and their psychological quality of life. By graduate school, she knew this line of work was what she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing. Which led her to pursue her graduate studies in mental health counseling, specializing in LGBTQ+ communities.
“Reflecting on my graduate clinical internship, I realized I wanted to work specifically with college students as developmentally, this is a foundational and formidable time in identity development, and I want to support that growth,” Guerrero said.
One upcoming project that Guerrero is excited about is working with community directors to create more LGBTQ+-inclusive spaces, programs and events in residential life. A key aspect of her job is collaboration with students, staff and faculty to cultivate “inclusive learning communities.”
As for outside her work, Guerrero enjoys riding her motorcycle in the warmer seasons, listening to comedy podcasts and being the proud mom of an 11-year-old gray tabby feline named Butch — a “fantastic” name that came with the cat when she adopted him.
Her long-term goal as the LGBTQ+ coordinator, which she expects to be a challenge, is helping establish a sustainable space for LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty that adequately addresses the concerns of the community.
“[I came to Wellesley because] I knew I wanted to be a part of the active change that would promote success and strengthen a learning environment where students from all backgrounds feel supported, empowered and challenged,” Guerrero said.