The third Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer candidate, Salvador Lopez, presented his plans for the position at the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion at Grand Rapids Community College earlier this month.
Lopez is a former GRCC student and a graduate of Grand Valley State University where he received a Master’s of Science and Communications with an emphasis in equity and inclusion management. He is in the running for the available CEIO position and Director of the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion.
All three CEIO candidates were asked to answer a prompt regarding the challenges and their proposals to meet those challenges as GRCC’s CEIO. The prompt reads:
“In our nation and on our campuses, diversity, equity and inclusion are in the spotlight. Please share what you believe are unique opportunities and challenges that urban community colleges like GRCC face as they strive to embrace these ideals, foster success and serve the greater community. How would you as GRCC’s CEIO address these opportunities and challenges?”
Lopez began his presentation with an introduction of his background. He was born in Salinas, California and grew up in low-income housing until he and his family moved to Grand Rapids with the help of an uncle. In Grand Rapids, Lopez started his post-secondary education at GRCC and then transferred and graduated from GVSU.
In response to the prompt regarding the challenges and opportunities while at GRCC, Lopez noted his unique point of view with regard to education because of his current role at GVSU.
“Coming from a background of enrollment development and inclusion and equity, I have an interesting perspective in higher education because I work in enrollment development,” Lopez said. “I work in the office of admissions with diversity recruitment, but I also have a lot of experience working with the division of inclusion and equity within GVSU.”
Among the challenges Lopez highlighted were the declining rates of high school graduates, the low or declining retention and graduation rates in higher education, financial challenges, campus climate and the declining resources from state funding for higher education.
“We have to make sure we meet students where they are,” Lopez said. “Campus climate has a lot to do with some of the work that we have to do. Not just at GRCC, but at all institutions. How do students feel when they arrive? How do they feel when they visit? How do faculty and staff feel and how does that translate to students? Campus climate is critical to the work that any institution will do.”
In highlighting the opportunities we face as a community, Lopez noted the effort needed to meet those opportunities is communal.
“Now we can’t do it alone, we can’t work in silos,” Lopez said. “One of the biggest things that I’m proud of over the years has to do with the fact that I’m able to bridge the communication gap between folks whether it be limited English proficient individuals back when I worked at the Hispanic Center (of West Michigan) in healthcare or whether it be working with staff and faculty and just looking at each other and saying, ‘We all want the same thing. How can we work together to accomplish a certain goal?’”
Lopez’s opportunities focused on quality in education, meeting students and families where they are and identifying resources and to embed equity and inclusion in the strategic plan accompanied by sustainable resources.
While at GVSU, Lopez developed a series of orientation programs geared towards minority students to keep students in college and ensure their graduation. The first, the Laker Familia Orientation, was a campus-wide effort designed for Latino students. With higher retention and graduation rates, a second program, the Black Excellence Orientation, was developed and targeted African-American students and their success in post-secondary education at GVSU.
“I’m very proud of this kind of work,” Lopez said. “It’s not official yet, but we’re looking at different communities that we can duplicate some of these efforts. But it always starts with people from all over campus working together to make this happen for our students.”
Lopez also helped create a task force at GVSU to help Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and undocumented students continue their education.
“It wasn’t an easy task because at the time, with the political climate and a new president coming into office, it was not a good time to really start making a lot of noise related to DACA and undocumented students, but we had them,” Lopez said. “So I said we have to be able to help all students and help them to be successful if they are here.”
The task force helped DACA recipients and undocumented students with financial aid and schooling. Lopez attributes the task force’s success with helping DACA and undocumented students to their promotion of the task force to the right students in need.
“Promoting (the task force) doesn’t matter to us,” Lopez said. “What does matter is promoting it to the right people. So students are able to find this page, they’re able to know there’s people that can help them… Dreamers are welcome, and that says a lot about the values of the institution and what we believe needs to happen to help students, all students.”
The CEIO position has yet to be filled. To see Salvador Lopez’s full presentation, click here. Other CEIO candidates B. Afeni McNeely and Jessica Cruz have presented during the community forums held for the open position.