Alejandro Covarrubias, Ed.D, joined Cal Poly Pomona on June 8 as the new executive director of student inclusion and belonging. In this role, he will provide leadership, planning and coordination of diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural programs and services aimed at promoting inclusivity and a sense of belonging for all students.
The following is a compilation of questions and answers with Covarrubias in which he expands on his role and his vision.
Q: How do you plan to amplify the student voice and perspective as it relates to issues of inclusion and belonging?
A: To effectively amplify student voices, the first thing I need to do is to build trust with students, particularly student communities that have historically been minoritized in higher education (communities of color, especially Black and Indigenous students; the LGBQIA community; students with disabilities; women, Transgender, and non-binary students; undocumented students; veterans, and many others). I plan to do this by affirming an expanded concept of “knowledge” that validates the intellectual, emotional, and experiential ways that we make meaning of our world.
My hope is that this will empower students to share their truth more holistically and at the same time help the broader campus be more skilled at taking in what is being shared. We need to understand issues of inequity and injustice not just from the head, but from the heart and the body as well.
Q: Describe how cross-cultural programming will help promote a sense of community for CPP students.
A: Cross-cultural programming will be a start in promoting a sense of community for CPP students because it will help to expand personal worldviews and expose CPP students to different cultures from their own. Cross-cultural programming will need to be paired with social justice education because it is critical to have a systems-level understanding of why some communities have always felt a sense of belonging on college campuses and why others have been excluded.
Social justice education reveals how differences were socially constructed between groups and were exploited to divide people. Along with cross-cultural programming, it also shows us that we can create new systems, honor differences, and authentically engage the diversity within our community.
Q: Why is it crucial for students to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus?
A: It is crucial for all students, but particularly for students from marginalized communities, to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion because those concepts are the foundations for a healthy learning environment. When someone feels like they belong, they feel safe, they feel like they can be their full self. They can take risks, they can explore, they can ask for help, and they can be vulnerable.
When students feel a sense of belonging, they can make mistakes and are open to being held accountable because they know accountability is about ensuring that both the individual and the community can grow to their fullest potential. But to work toward a stronger sense of belonging and inclusion within our campus community, we must first acknowledge and grapple with the ways exclusion and alienation exist at the individual, group, and institutional levels.
From there, we can create change that centers on the needs of our most vulnerable communities, which will ultimately benefit the entire community.
Q: How can CPP encourage more students, staff, and faculty alike to be active participants on issues of inclusion and belonging?
A: To encourage our entire campus community to be more active on issues of inclusion, belonging and justice, CPP could continue to provide opportunities for students, staff and faculty to develop awareness, knowledge, skills, and courage to take action that creates a more equitable and inclusive CPP community.
In the current moment of a global pandemic and the very public displays of police brutality, specifically against the Black community in our country, some people are becoming more aware of the broader injustices and inequities that make talking about inclusion and belonging important. At the same time, we can often cause more harm if we move from awareness directly into action, without developing knowledge and skills. CPP can create opportunities for the campus community to deepen their awareness of what is happening in the world while developing self-awareness about how those happenings shape a person’s lived experience.
We can deepen our knowledge about the histories and creation of systems of oppression and marginalization. CPP can create opportunities to develop the skills to engage in authentic and meaningful dialogues, skills to create change on the individual and institutional levels, and skills to be accountable to each other when harm has been caused.
We must also recognize and affirm those in our community who have been courageous enough to name the ways in which the CPP community, on individual and institutional levels, has not always been inclusive and has marginalized communities. This is what will lead all of us towards meaningful action and change.
Q: Describe your leadership style, and how it will be employed in this role.
A: My leadership style is grounded in invitation, facilitation, and education. Justice, equity, and inclusion work at its core is an invitation to believe that the world can be different. As a leader I will do my best to invite everyone into the conversation and empower the community to be creative and visionary about what a more just, equitable, and inclusive CPP community could look like, sound like, feel like.
I also lead by facilitating and creating space for vulnerable and authentic exchanges of ideas that center on the most marginalized members in our community. There are multiple avenues towards justice and inclusion, so my goal will be to explore those different paths as a collective. I have dedicated my career to the field of education because I believe education has the rare opportunity to both expand a person’s way of thinking and, at the same time, solidify their values and beliefs. I lead by educating those around me, offering new perspectives, and sharing knowledge from the head, the heart, and the body.
My goal is to invite everyone to think more critically, be willing to be uncomfortable as we engage the complexity of our world, and ultimately find new hope and liberation through education that does justice.
Q: CPP is a Hispanic Serving Institution. What is your definition of this classification?
A: My definition of a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) is an institution that has the opportunity to deeply engage the complexity of serving the Latinx community. So often, racialized groups become monoliths on college campuses, especially when there are very few people from that group on campus. Hispanic/Latinx is a diverse ethno-racial community that includes many different nationalities, ethnicities, races (including Black Latinx and Indigenous Latinx people), languages, religions, political views, sexual identities, and gender identities.
Having the HSI classification means there are a significant number of students who identify within the Hispanic/Latinx group and all the diversity represented within it. As a result, CPP has the opportunity to help make meaning of the vast diversity within the community to find better ways to serve and support those students, while also supporting our broader student community.
Serving one community does not mean we stop serving others. Instead of an either/or framework, I believe we can exist in multiplicity and equitably serve our entire campus community.