University Times

Professor’s Wisdom

Cal State LA professor guides students to stick to their academic goals.

Chief+Diversity+Officer+Octavio+Villalpando+sharing+events++of+his+life+that+have+led+to+his+current+occupation.
Chief Diversity Officer Octavio Villalpando sharing events  of his life that have led to his current occupation.

Chief Diversity Officer Octavio Villalpando sharing events of his life that have led to his current occupation.

Camille Jessie

Camille Jessie

Chief Diversity Officer Octavio Villalpando sharing events of his life that have led to his current occupation.

Mary Pace, Contributor

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Cal State LA’s Professor Dolores Delgado Bernal and Octavio Villalpando led the presentation Working Toward Racial, Gender and Economic Justice in the Academy at University-Student Union last Thursday.

Both professors are leading scholars on Critical Race Theory and Chicanx students in higher education. Dolores shares her time between the Department of Chicana/o & Latina/o Studies and Charter College of Education. Villalpando is the Vice Provost for Diversity and Engaged Learning and Chief Diversity Officer at Cal State LA. While both are influential scholars, their road to scholarly success came from humble beginnings.

Bernal recalls her academic journey as a first-generation student, a “feminista” who learned the concept of “nepantla,” (‘borderland space’) which is a liminal space that’s in between ways of knowing. Her parents’ education was different, as she describes them as high school “push-outs,” a specific word choice to describe the educational system set up so that “students are forced to leave the institution,” said Prof. Bernal. Her father joined the marines. His drive pushed her to excel as a student.

She earned an undergraduate degree in business but realized that wearing business suits from 9 to 5 p.m. was not her ideal career. She returned to school to pursue degrees in higher education. She earned her Ph.D at University of California, Los Angeles.

Today, some of her work includes: Ovarian Cycles in Boyle Heights, which work around anti-gentrification, and Youth Justice Coalition, which prevents school and prison pipeline. Students involved in the Youth Justice Coalition are mapping data from the District Attorney reports of people killed by the police county.

“Boyle Heights is number five right now,” said Prof. Bernal. “Students are doing the labor of creating those maps.”

“There are a lot of ways to do research and scholarship to bridge our lives,” said Prof. Bernal. “We can work toward issues in many different ways: activism, businesses, education and administration [work toward] building resources for our communities.”

Dr. Octavio Villalpando recalls growing up in a community where gang problems were so prominent that his parents moved from a house to a cramped two-bedroom apartment in order to remove their children from the threat.

As a young student, he received an offer to do research at the University of Utah.

“I found a community that’s small, but it’s growing. The impact of the work we’re doing could be more meaningful than the impact working a place like Los Angeles,” said Dr. Villalpando. “Fishpond effect is what that’s called.”

He is also working to improve diversity.

“It is an opportunity that very few people get in their lifetimes- the opportunity to help an institution to help better the underrepresented communities of an institution.”

His talk was not shy of discussing all the challenges facing higher education in the present day:

“The idea that you have to contend with the challenges of achieving a degree is one thing,” said Dr. Villalpando. “Making progress consistently – but never would we ever expect to be receiving daily attacks from our political leaders in Washington DC. We are living in a moment that we will look back historically and read about in the future.”

Today, Dr. Villalpando  is working to help increase graduation rates for students, as well as increasing the number of African-American students on campus. He recalls that in 1968, people walked out to demand education. Now, he is empowering students to walk back in and pursue the education their ancestors fought for them. Dr. Villalpando ended his talk with the message of how activism and education comes together:

“This idea that if you like education, that it is one of the ways of moving forward in our communities, and we all believe that, despite the myths that families of color undermine that- we value education and we are here,” he said. “Think about a career as a faculty member in higher education. There is no better career. You’ll put in the effort upfront to get your careers, but you get to be a part of experience to be with others. There are multiple ways forward!”

Frederick Smith, Director of Cal State LA’s Cross Cultural Centers, explained the programs importance:

“We wanted to make sure to highlight some of our scholars on campus. The Cal State LA community takes pride in its faculty. It is meaningful for students to see role-models who look like them and have similar stories and experiences in their educational journey.”

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