"A Legacy of Paying it Forward"

Former Directors Series
Interview with Dr. Alicia Fedilina Chávez

MARKO: Tell us a little bit about your experience paying it forward.

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ:This means many things to me – early on in my time in student affairs as a student paraprofessional, leaders would take me to lunch or coffee or I would invite them to ask their advice on something, and they would always insist on paying for me…and when I would say that I wanted to reciprocate, without fail, each would encourage me to pay it forward by taking out a student when I was a professional and could afford this. I have always done that since that time and this profound gesture of kindness as well as the encouragement to also pay it forward was an incredible lesson to learn so young in my profession.

In other ways, I believe that to be an Academic Warrior is to pay it forward through my own kinds of activism, to speak up with and sometimes for students and others as well as to push for systemic and systematic cultural and other identity forms of transformative change in higher education. My teaching, research, writing, and leadership have been strongly focused in this kind of paying it forward through activism in higher education.

MARKO: Can you tell us about your background and where you are from? 

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: My name is Alicia Fedelina Chávez, Ph.D. I am from Taos, New Mexico and live there once again amidst my extended Chávez family, our sheep, the incredible Sangre de Cristo Mountains and high desert sage.

I am Mestiza – Spanish American and Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache. I am currently an Associate Professor in Educational Leadership working mostly with higher education administrators and Native American educators on their masters and doctoral degrees.
   
My administrative background is in student affairs at 12 universities across the US as well as later serving as Dean of Students at the University of Wisconsin, and then answering a call home to lead an emerging community branch campus in my home Taos for the University of New Mexico.
   
My research and publications have been focused in two areas – Identity and Leadership as well as Culture and College Teaching – and I have published 5 books and numerous articles and other publications over the years in these areas. I am currently working on several more books – co-authoring one on intercultural relationality in student affairs and Co-Editing two on Indigenizing Educational Leadership, Philosophy and Research

MARKO: Are you an alumnus of UNC and if you are, what did you major/minor in? Do you have other degrees and what institutions are they from?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: I am not an alum of UNC. My degrees are:

  • Ph. D.University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, Higher Education, Policy Studies, 1998\
  • M. A.Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, Student Personnel Administration / Higher Education, 1989
  • B. A. New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Psychology

MARKO: How long did you serve as César Chávez Cultural Center Director?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: Less than a year -- from August 1991 - January 1992. I left to pursue my Ph.D.

MARKO: How would you describe your role and the challenges presented to you there?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: During the time I was there I focused in a number of areas, such as the Center was named the Hispanic Cultural Center and I started discussions to rename it more inclusively. I also worked with especially student affairs departments across campus to encourage and consult with them about developing their services, information, and processes more effectively for Latinx students from a variety of backgrounds, languages, perspectives, strengths, and needs.

I was concerned and advocated with admissions as well as many academic departments to improve their recruiting practices to be more ethical and effective. I started several retention committees with professionals and students from across campus to assess and improve student retention efforts at every level. I worked with several departments to encourage and consult with them about hiring more Latinx professionals and student staff. I oversaw a staff of professionals and 31 workstudy students to provide a variety of services, events, support etc. to students

MARKO: What is the grounding value/belief that helped guide your work there?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ:  I had then and continue to have a value and belief that we need to go well beyond cultural celebration, sensitivity, and awareness to deeply change systems, processes, institutional values and norms, and more to have them be crafted from and honor many cultural ways of being, values, norms, beliefs, and priorities. That makes my work to this day focus on areas of power and definition across cultural strengths.

MARKO: What would you like to share regarding that period of time in your life?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: Honestly, that was a very tough time in my life because I felt the University was using very unethical and harmful recruiting practices with Latinx prospective students to increase numbers and doing little to retain these students and make sure they were learning, succeeding, and graduating.

I moved on when I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to get in line and continue with these practices by both the Vice President for Student Affairs at that time, and the President of the University. I was unwilling to practice unethically and harmfully and so for the only time in my professional life, quit without yet holding another position

MARKO: What would you like others to know about the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center and its place at UNC?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: Cultural centers at Universities and Colleges, especially in predominantly White institutions, hold special importance in providing safer spaces where students can breathe more easily, find common language and culture to share, as well as find academic and personal support, often connections for collective activism, and connections to those who are similar and different culturally.

MARKO: This year, on September 3, we will celebrate the Center’s 35th Anniversary and the chosen theme is “A legacy of paying it forward” – what does this mean to you?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ: This means many things to me – early on in my time in student affairs as a student paraprofessional, leaders would take me to lunch or coffee or I would invite them to ask their advice on something, and they would always insist on paying for me…and when I would say that I wanted to reciprocate, without fail, each would encourage me to pay it forward by taking out a student when I was a professional and could afford this. I have always done that since that time and this profound gesture of kindness as well as the encouragement to also pay it forward was an incredible lesson to learn so young in my profession.

In other ways, I believe that to be an Academic Warrior is to pay it forward through my own kinds of activism, to speak up with and sometimes for students and others as well as to push for systemic and systematic cultural and other identity forms of transformative change in higher education. My teaching, research, writing, and leadership have been strongly focused in this kind of paying it forward through activism in higher education.

MARKO: What was your proudest moment/accomplishment/memory of your time there?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ:I think when I consulted with my large staff of students and professionals about the unethical and harmful recruiting practices and they urged me to stand my ground up to and including resigning if necessary to make a statement.

MARKO: Is there anything else you would like to share?

DR. ALICIA FEDILINA CHÁVEZ:  I would share a strong wish for the continued good work of the Center and to Congratulate and thank all the Directors, professionals, and student staff who have made a true difference in the lives of students, UNC, and beyond.

Cesar Chavez Cultural Center 35 year anniversary

Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the César Chávez Cultural Center

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