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César Chávez Cultural Center 35th Anniversary: Interview with Vicki Leal-Larsen (Served 1995-1998)

Marko Corona, Graduate Intern
December 01, 2020

"A Legacy of Paying it Forward"

Former Directors Series

Interview with Vicki Leal-Larsen

MARKO: Please give us your name and tell us where are you from?

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: My name is Vicki Leal-Larsen and I am a Colorado Native from Julesburg, CO (northeastern plains of CO) and grew up in Greeley.

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?

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: I am a two time alumnus of UNC with a Bachelor's in English and a Minor in Spanish. Master's in College Student Personnel Administration with an emphasis in Secondary/Postsecondary Counseling. Fun Fact: "Lifer" at UNC Lab School/UNC, prior to its closing, (the K-12 Lab School/University High School).

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: I served as Director of the CCCC from 1995-1998 (three years).

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: My role was to direct The Center in service to the whole campus community with a particular focus on the Latinx student population. To that end, I served as an integral team member, along with UNC's other cultural centers, under the leadership of the then Assistant Vice President of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. We worked collaboratively to undertake a slate of programming, services and activities that enhanced campus culture/climate/milieu under the auspices of strengthening the school's inclusive excellence while simultaneously empowering the Latinx student population. In this way they would experience and enjoy academic success and completion of their respective goals within the larger context of cultural validation and affirmation of their individual and very personal lived experiences, truth; reality. There were challenges: initially, resistance from students who were against my candidacy/appointment as Director; factions of Latinx students competing against one another regarding Latinx identity issues. Some faculty and staff at the time were downright hostile and actively worked against The Center during the early part of my tenure as Director. Other challenges: chronic underfunding and an institution that wanted desperately to have the Centers on campus, but wasn't always willing to recognize the needs/role/significance.

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: My desire to see/witness the success of all Latinx students guided my work at The Center each day, semester, and academic year. At the time, Latinx students were woefully underrepresented, in spite of the prevailing demographics of the K-12 school system, locally and statewide. I believe we were about eight percent of the UNC student population at the time. I used to continuously share with the students that their successes were no smaller than the majority population, just harder to see as our population was so [relatively] unnecessarily small.

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: The Directorship of the CCCC, to this day, remains one of the top three highlights of my higher education career! One of the best gigs, professionally, that I've had the pleasure of fulfilling. Great students, faculty and staff!!

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: The CCCC has played a significant role in the success of the students that it has intimately served. It is a needed entity, still, in 2020, on UNC's campus and should not only be valued and recognized, but adequately funded. Its presence on campus for nearly 40 years has been invaluable, not only to the UNC campus community, but also to the greater Greeley/Weld and Colorado state communities. It's a gem, and at certain points in history over the years, has only been one of a few free-standing Latinx Cultural Centers, outside of CA at least.

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: Paying it forward means that all who benefited from the CCCC should and have gone on to continue the fight for educational equity, equality and opportunity, particularly for Latinx students. To ensure that in 2020 and beyond we are taking care to empower students and expand the pipeline so that many more students pursue post secondary education success. Education is Knowledge; Knowledge is Power!

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

VICKI LEAL-LARSEN: I experienced so many proud moments while directing the CCCC, but my top three are:

  1. The inaugural Latina Youth Conference;
  2. The shared Casasola Art Exhibit, (in partnership with the Museo de las Americas in Denver); and,
  3. The proliferation of Multicultural Greek Organizations, specifically Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Inc., which started during  my tenure.

 Cesar Chavez Cultural Center 35 year anniversary

Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the César Chávez Cultural Center