A Catalyst for Change - Higher Education
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A Catalyst for Change

by Garry Boulard

A Catalyst for Change
After leading the National Council of La Raza for more than 30 years,
Raul Yzaguirre takes his fight for civil rights to Arizona State University.
By Garry Boulard

TEMPE, Ariz.
Raul Yzaguirre takes note, with pleasure, of the growing number of minorities making up Arizona State University’s student enrollment — 31 percent in the fall of 2004.

“The Latino student percentage at Arizona State University is not, of course, equal to the Latino percentage in the local community,” he says. “But we are making significant progress in that area, and have seen increases in the numbers last year and the year before that.”

In fact, Hispanics at ASU now make up more than 12 percent of the student body, at 7,325 out of a total student enrollment of 61,033. And they saw their numbers increase by about 7.5 percent this academic year over the year before. By comparison, Hispanics compose roughly 60 percent of the general population in the greater Tempe-Phoenix area, a percentage that is expected to grow in the years ahead.
After serving on the national stage as the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, it makes sense that Yzaguirre is interested in the racial and ethnic dynamics of ASU. Last January, after working with NCLR since the mid-1970s and seeing it emerge as the most influential Hispanic policy institute in the country, Yzaguirre announced that he was joining the ASU faculty (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Jan. 27, 2005).

His charge? To develop a Hispanic-based community development institute and assist the school’s efforts to raise money, recruit minority faculty and students and establish partnerships with minority groups. It was a move that was widely seen as a major coup for the ASU community, which has thoroughly embraced him in the past year.

“He has proven himself to be a major force here,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow, “showing us that he is not just a moving-forward kind of guy, but also someone who instinctively understands the core issues related to community development and civil rights and knows how to get things done.”

Says Alonzo Jones, the past president of the ASU African American Alumni chapter and current director of the school’s multicultural student services, “What has been most interesting to me is how the students here have received him. Almost from the moment he got here he made a point of reaching out to other communities on the ASU campus and really interfacing with them.”

“The idea behind establishing a dialogue with the students was simple,” says Yzaguirre. “I want to advocate for their concerns, but you cannot really know or understand what those concerns are unless you are willing to meet with them and truly listen.”

Most of Yzaguirre’s energy has been devoted to the creation of the ASU Center for Community Development and Civil Rights. Located in downtown Phoenix, the center opened its doors last fall in a building that is currently only shared by a provost and an administration office.

But that promises to be a temporary situation. The building, complete with classrooms, is projected to accommodate upwards of 20,000 students within the next five years.

Yzaguirre, officially a presidential professor of practice in community development and civil rights in the College of Public Programs at ASU, is also the executive director of the center.

“We are already doing projects from this center, including a civil rights lecture series,” he says. “But we are going to do much more in the months ahead, especially as it relates to the community.”

That community in Phoenix and most of south central Arizona is dominated by prosperous suburban and exurban sprawl. But noticeable pockets of lower-income Hispanic, American Indian and Black populations are challenged by the health, employment and education issues normally associated with underdevelopment.

“There is so much work to do,” says Yzaguirre. “Just trying to work with and understand what we can do to intervene with the young Latino males who are falling very significantly behind females in academic achievement and dropping out of school at a high rate is challenging enough. And that is just one of the many areas in which we are going to become involved.”

The center will also be devoted to community issues, education for practitioners and public research.

“I am really trying to be a catalyst and facilitator for things to happen here,” says the 66-year-old Yzaguirre. “Basically, I can raise the issues. But that can only go so far unless a school has good leadership and knows where to take those issues. And in this case, at ASU, the leadership has exceeded my expectations. So we expect to see more good things happen along these lines in the future.”

© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

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