Virtual Event Honors Legacy of César Chávez
By Brian Hiro
In normal times, the César Chávez Day of Service is a day for Cal State San Marcos students, faculty and staff to use March 31 – which is a holiday for all California State University campuses – as an opportunity to get out and serve the community in the spirit of the late civil rights activist.
Of course, because of the coronavirus pandemic, these still are not normal times. As a result, the César Chávez Day of Service last week became a virtual event for the first time.
Titled “A Virtual Conversation: Honoring the Legacy of César Chávez,” the event was designed to pay tribute to Chávez’s life and to inspire students as change agents who can make a difference in their communities. It was organized by Service Learning & Civic Engagement and featured a pair of keynote speakers: Laura Rendón and José Manuel Villarreal.
Rendón is a professor emerita at the University of Texas at San Antonio and an educational consultant who has been a featured speaker at more than 100 higher education institutions and conferences throughout the nation. Her presentations focus on topics such as student success, Latinx STEM students, and self-care and healing.
Rendón appeared at the invitation of Elizabeth Eriksen, assistant director of student services at CSUSM Temecula, who learned under Rendón as a master’s student at Long Beach State.
“One of the key things that inspires me about César Chávez is the whole notion of giving back, serving as a role model for students and using my talents and expertise to make a difference in the lives of underserved students, especially those who are low-income and first-generation,” Rendón said.
Villarreal is in his first year as the principal at Oceanside High School – as he puts it, the first Latino principal in the 114-year history of the school. Before that, he served as assistant superintendent of Epiphany Prep Charter School in Escondido, a K-8 school in which more than 95% of the students are Latino and from low-income families.
Villarreal is also a 2010 graduate of the Joint Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at CSUSM and UC San Diego.
Asked what message he tried to convey at the Chávez virtual event, Villarreal said: “When we as Latinos or allies embrace the trauma of our parents and family, we will understand their ‘why’ when they nudge us to complete our short- or long-term career. Moreover, the idioms/dichos of my father have guided me during those times when I felt alone and lost in this world as I am being asked to assimilate. Also, particularly as a Latino community, we are often our worst critics. Our own trauma either publicly or quietly practices our own cancel culture. Or we are not feeling ready or empowered to reach out to each other for support. Even with these opinions, I feel the need to caution that my goal is to not generalize, yet bring some light to our own journey. The reality is that our own history is evolving from Latino to adding the ‘x’ to the debate of what makes you first generation.”
As a professor, Rendón developed “validation theory,” a student success framework that has been employed to guide research studies and programs in colleges and universities nationwide.
“Validation theory is about faculty and staff reaching out to students to let them know we are here for them, that we’ve got their backs,” Rendón said. “This means letting students know we believe in them, value their knowledge and culture, and are committed to assisting them on their academic journeys. Validating relationships is foundational to student success.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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