Unique Torres has a hard time saying no.
In fact, the public relations major spends what little free time she has looking for new projects where she can make a difference, whether it’s creating an app for the Sacramento Pride Festival or leading communications for the Chico Peace and Justice Center through her team of 13 students. That’s in addition to her average courseload of 21 units and internships with a bilingual printing press and the Department of Multicultural and Gender Studies (MCGS).
“My friends always ask, ‘Did you just say yes to one more thing?’ And I say, ‘Yes! All the opportunities!’” Torres explains with a laugh, sweeping her arms inward as if to draw everything to her.
In addition to her seven classes, the graduating senior estimates she devotes nearly 40 hours a week to her paid and volunteer obligations.
“I succeed when I’m under pressure, and there is a lot of pressure,” she said, with another easy laugh.
Relentlessly smiling and contagiously cheerful, Torres has led a jam-packed life as long as she can remember. Raised the only child of a single mother with severe health issues, she spent her youth as both student and caretaker, balancing homework with helping out at home.
“Since it was just the two of us, who would do it?” she asks. “It made me more responsible. There were things I was used to at 7, 8, 9—handling her medications, making appointments, doing taxes—that now I’m like ‘This is adulting.’ But then they were just things.”
Torres’ leadership evolution continued in the classroom, where she immersed herself in afterschool programs and electives—and she realized a harried schedule was both what makes her happy and where she thrives.
After the death of her mother when she was 13, Torres became a caretaker for her grandparents in Sacramento, juggling the familiar balance of academics and family care, but kept her sights on a bigger future. In 2014, at the age of 17, she enrolled at Chico State.
Like usual, she filled her schedule as best she could as she tried to help other students find their niche at the University.
“Chico as a community, when you step off campus, it’s hard to find people as a person of color or who look like you,” she said. “There are students who feel lost. When they know there are people out there for them and like them—and I was one of them—that is important to me.”
She began by mentoring peer leaders and coordinating University Housing (UH) events through the Residence Hall Association. She moved on to UH’s Prime Time Productions, where she managed social media, oversaw events with more than 4,000 attendees, and represented Chico State campus programming at a national conference.
By her junior year, Unique started exploring her Spanish-speaking heritage and found a sparking interest in social justice. She started doing PR for the student club Expresiones Literarias Artisticas y Culturales de Chico to create a larger and unified Latinx presence at Chico State and in the city of Chico.
While visiting journalism classes in search of interns and volunteers, MCGS department chair Sara Cooper says she was immediately struck by Torres, who not only had excellent ideas and an extensive skill set, but also remarkable enthusiasm. With a wide-eyed willingness to learn, incredible humility, and a great sense of humor, she’s since become “irreplaceable.”
Torres began serving as a public relations intern for Cubanabooks, Cooper’s nonprofit press devoted to bringing Cuban women’s literature to the United States. Torres handled all of its public relations, from managing the website and social media to pitching book reviews to the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, and eventually began managing a team of students.
To top it off, she became the student assistant and PR and outreach team lead for the Department of MCGS, where she created its first community newsletter, visual branding guide, and logo, while also supervising a team of interns. Cooper says Torres’ deep dive into the world of advocacy for underrepresented voices has been incredibly rewarding to watch.
“That’s exactly what we try to do with MCGS,” Cooper said. “Seeing her evolve as a champion of equity and justice gives me hope for the future, that young people with her acumen and skills are getting excited about this.”
Last spring, already taking 21 units, Torres started trolling Sacramento State’s website for additional internship opportunities and spotted an old listing for the Sacramento LGBT Community Center. She was immediately intrigued.
Even though her plate was already full and the center was not actively seeking help, she reached out and asked if she could intern.
Predictably, when Torres asks for responsibility, she gets it—in spades. She began producing the center’s weekly newsletter, producing news releases, generating social media, produced its annual report, and assisted with its major fundraising campaigns.
The center is now considering implementation of an app prototype she created for one of her classes that would offer hyperlocal critical services such as mental and physical health and social services for LGBTQ+ people in the Sacramento area.
While Torres’ primary sights are on graduation, she has another major milestone in mind—the Sacramento Pride festival, which kicks off June 10. She became the community center’s PR lead for the event in March, which includes directing event staff, building awareness about the history of Pride, establishing a news media strategy, and leading the development and design of the Sacramento Pride event app—believed to be not just a first for this event but for Pride events at large.
Torres is most proud of a feature she embedded to promote education. Instant hourly notifications will provide attendees with historical pride images and stories. Her dream would be to land a job with the community center, but she ultimately aspires to any job where she can make a difference.
“I’ve seen people get treated so badly due to one aspect of their life,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do volunteer work to help people out. And as I’m teaching others, I’m learning more about my community and opening my eyes up.”
Journalism professor Debra Johnson notes that strong community leaders are not always those who proactively step into the spotlight or seek accolades for the work they do. Many times, some of the most effective community leaders work tirelessly in the shadows to raise others up to the spotlight.
And that’s exactly who Torres is.
“Her job satisfaction is the people that she helps. It’s not, ‘Am I going to be the next multimillionaire?’ It’s, ‘How can I see I’m making a difference in the lives of other people in my community,’” Johnson said. “I know she is going to be one of those graduates we ask to come back and ask to share her story over and over again.”