After 27 years of teaching and service at Cal Poly Pomona, Ethnic and Women’s Studies (EWS) Professor Gilbert Cadena has officially retired.
During his time at CPP, his most notable achievements have been working with EWS faculty to develop the gender, ethnicity, and multicultural studies major; co-founding and co-coordinating the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration on campus; and incorporating service-learning into his courses, which amounted to over 2,300 students contributing over 62,000 hours of service across Southern California.
“Dr. Cadena will be greatly missed, but we are also happy to celebrate his well-deserved retirement,” said Professor Jocelyn Pacleb, chair of the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies. “He’s been central in building EWS and the various partnerships across the campus, such as the Cultural Centers and especially with the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education, MASA and MEChA. His legacy at CPP is the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration that brings the campus community together to both learn and celebrate with each other.”
Cadena (’79, social sciences) began his teaching career after graduating with his master’s and doctorate degree in sociology at the UCs Riverside. He was a post-doctoral fellow in Chicano studies at Stanford University for one year and a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley for another year.
After completing both programs, he returned to Southern California to teach sociology and Chicano studies at Pomona College. Following his appointment at Pomona College, he was hired by CPP to teach in EWS. Being a first-generation college student, Cadena credits a Brazilian scholar for inspiring him to pursue teaching.
“When I was an undergraduate student studying social sciences at CPP, I became very interested in liberation theology, critical pedagogy and popular education influenced by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire,” said Cadena. “Through his work, I learned how critical it is to teach the masses to educate themselves so that they can change the world around them.“
In 1996, Cadena became the EWS department chair, and one of his first priorities was to create a major for the department, which only offered five minors. He worked with EWS faculty to revise a proposal, which he presented to the Academic Senate.
“Although our proposal to form the GEMS major successfully passed the Academic Senate and was signed by the university president, we had some opposition at the campus level,” said Cadena. “It took some time, but we finally got it through, and the GEMS major became official in 1998.”
During his tenure as chair, he also co-founded the Dia de los Muertos celebration, which is a public event honoring the memories of those who have died through performances, spoken word, exhibitions and ofrendas (alters).
“One of the most recognized events on our campus is Dia de los Muertos,” said EWS Professor Sandy Dixon. “I’ve attended several and still find each year an opportunity to see a variety of altars by student groups and classes. It is a time to enjoy cultural foods and feel a sense of togetherness.
Learning about this celebration was implemented in several EWS and other department courses. The impact of addressing social justice, racism, anti-racism, cultural understanding and awareness is a strength of this celebration. I love that this event is family oriented and traditional. Dr. Cadena continued to collaborate every year on Dia de los Muertos, and his vision of the Dia de los Muertos celebration on the Cal Poly campus was fulfilled.”
Most recently, Cadena has been involved with Project Success and the Male Success Initiatives. Both programs seek to connect male students of color to campus resources to support their academic and personal success. As one of the faculty mentors, Cadena met with the students on a regular basis and co-led a first-year experience course.
“I worked with Dr. Cadena for three years as we assisted an average of 50 first-year men of color transition into CPP,” said Rogelio Contreras, student success advisor and previous coordinator of Project Success. “Dr. Cadena was always intentional with his remarks and imparted a sense of community. He demonstrated a deep commitment and bold generosity in every interaction.
His keen awareness of political and social movements was always apparent in conversation. I always admired his Chicano pride, which reminded me and others that we need to get in touch with our culture. Dr. Cadena embodies servant leadership and worked with the community, not just for the community. He was one of the first men of color faculty that inspired me to pursue teaching to expedite change in our world. Thank you to Dr. Cadena for making an impact on me, students and our campus. You will be missed!”
Another colleague that he worked alongside, Reginaldo Robles, said working with Cadena through Project Success was both a pleasure and a humbling experience.
“He has been a staple in the foundation and development of this program,” said Robles, leadership development coordinator in the Office of Student Life & Cultural Centers. “His generosity of time to help, support, guide and mentor our men of color here at CPP over the years has been unmatched. I learned so much from him and he will be dearly missed. Thank you for all that you did for our students.”
As an educator, some of Cadena’s favorite classes to teach were EWS 4310: Ethnicity, Gender and Religion/Spirituality; EWS 2800: Service Learning and Community Engagement; and EWS 4020: Chicana/o-Latina/o Contemporary Issues.
He published numerous articles on Latinos and religion, Dia de los Muertos, liberation theology and service-learning pedagogy. He also co-edited, “Old Masks, New Faces: Religion and Latino Identities.”
“Dr. Cadena is an outstanding faculty member whose teaching, research and service has transformed the lives of countless students,” said S. Terri Gomez, associate provost for student success. “Dr. Cadena has been a pioneer on our campus in the development of High Impact Practices, which have significantly enhanced the overall success of our students. These practices include community service-learning, capstone senior research projects, internships, study abroad, alternative spring break, and mentoring and collaborating in research with students to present scholarship at national academic conferences.
These high impact practices have allowed students the opportunity to link theory with praxis and apply what they learned to the outside world. He represents the best of Cal Poly Pomona’s learn by doing model, and he will be sorely missed.”
Now that Cadena is officially retired, he said he looks forward to traveling, camping, hiking, gardening as well as pursuing his interest in art and photography.
“I still remember my ethnic and women’s studies classes I took at Cal Poly Pomona as an undergraduate in the 1970s,” said Cadena. “It was hard to imagine then, that I would return as a professor and chair of the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies. Through much struggle, I am happy to see ethnic studies institutionalized as a CSU graduation requirement and now a California high school requirement. I am proud to be part of this scholar-activist tradition.”