Propelling CU Denver forward as an institution for action

In March, Chancellor Michelle Marks appointed Antonio Farias as Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI), marking the first executive to focus specifically on DCI on the CU Denver campus, where students of color make up half of the body of undergraduates. and 49% are first generation. Farias brings a strong personal and professional perspective to the role that will propel CU Denver as an institution in the service of stocks.

Farias joins CU Denver from the University of Florida, a leading research university of more than 50,000 students, where he served as the president’s first director of diversity and senior advisor. During his career, Farias led interdivisional teams in systems approaches to DCI at three leading institutions and served as administrator of the McNair Scholars program at Mercy College; an African and Puerto Rican / Latin Studies instructor at Hunter College; and an advisor to the Higher Education Opportunities Program at Colgate University.

Read more: Antonio Farias appointed Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

He received a BA in Comparative Literature and an MA in Comparative Ethnic Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. In addition, he obtained management certificates from Cornell and Harvard and served as an infantryman in the United States Army.

CU Denver News virtually sat down with Farias to talk about his background and DCI’s important campus-wide initiatives.

How did your previous experience prepare you for your role as Vice-Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at CU Denver?

I grew up in the Bronx in the 1970s, when it was literally burning. Multiculturalism was a daily experience, and it was often difficult, as each block had a different racial and ethnic makeup, and I had to make alliances just to go to school and come back. In an education system that was brutally underfunded, I found opportunities because people were looking out for me, and I had mentors who guided me through the process. I was one of the ‘lucky ones’ and it shouldn’t be a matter of luck, which is why I am doing the job of expanding opportunities for communities who need it most and have incredible talent to. to offer.

I restarted my education several times. I was one of those students to whom the high school counselor said, “Go work for the airlines, because you will never make it through college.” I think a lot of our UC Denver students get this kind of message, implied or explicit, that they don’t belong in college. Again, I come back to mentoring. My Ethnic Studies and African American Studies mentors at the University of California at Berkeley crystallized my sense of who I am. They also made it clear that the opportunities offered to me were paid for by generations of civil rights activists, many of whom paid dearly to demand justice, and that I had a moral obligation to do the same for the next generation. .

I’ve been through a lot of different career paths – it wasn’t like growing up I thought, I want to be the head of the diversity officer. But every career path has taught me something. I was an airline engineer for a while, and it taught me how to juggle and meet deadlines under high pressure and find solutions to problems that weren’t in any books that kept planes from falling out of the sky. . Then I served in the US Army as an infantryman, and that taught me to laser focus on the values ​​that drive a mission, and that various teams, when crystallized around the mission, can accomplish what seems impossible.

In higher education, I learned that the mission ends if we do not anchor it in our values. For CU Denver, what really turns me on about who we are is that we center fairness as a core value – that’s what we’re going to build on everything else. And the construction of this institution in the service of equity is really powerful.

What do you think fairness means?

I think it’s powerful not only to say that we want to give people opportunities, but also to give them the tools to actually succeed at a fair pace. Part of this process is failure and recovery and learning from failure. The challenge is how to use failure as fuel to do better next time? For UC to become an institution in the service of equity, it means that we will provide a racial and culturally nurturing educational and working environment that rejects the deficit-based mindset that has traditionally influenced how l he higher education interacts with historically underserved populations, who are rooted in our organizational structures and reinforced by societal norms.

What attracted you to CU Denver?

First and foremost, leadership. Chancellor Michelle Marks has a clear vision and the leadership chops to make it happen. During our interview process, the way she spoke of “radical inclusiveness” caught my attention. As a city-serving university with a highly diverse student body, here we have the building blocks to expand our ability to deliver a world-class and culturally responsive education to our students so that they can thrive on campus and in an increasingly complex global society. . Plus, we really focus on our students rather than trying to change our pedigree or become something we’re not.

Being at CU is like coming home. When I look at our students, especially those I saw at Cross the Quad, I see myself in them, and as a parent of a soon-to-be-graduated girl, I feel the visceral joy and wonder of many of our people. families. , for whom, a first college graduate in the family is such a mixture of pride, love and possibility.

We also created opportunities at an affordable price, and I think that’s the key. We provide a service to taxpayers, which in my opinion is powerful, because as we diversify as a state and demographics change, we are responsible for creating the next generation of leaders, professionals. of health, artists and educators ready. serve an increasingly diverse population. CU Denver is already ahead of that curve, so we need to focus on expanding the opportunities that lead to the jobs of the future in Colorado.

How will you lead and develop initiatives that build on and advance an institutional commitment to equity and justice?

Part of my role is to help us create a future around being an institution in the service of equity, and the main motivation to get us there is focused on our becoming a Hispanic Service Institution (HSI) and oneEstablishment serving the Pacific Islands Asian Indian(AANAPISI). The work requires a large network of offices and individuals willing to put in a sweat to make it a reality. I am grateful because the Equity Working Group (EFTETF) has developed a detailed roadmap and modeled a process that allows everyone to have a stake in the implementation of effective practices that are linked to our broader university strategy of being empowered by our inclusive excellence.

Over 150 students, faculty and staff at UC Denver were involved in creating the ETF roadmap, and the inclusiveness of how they produced a high-quality product in very little time. time is a testament to UC Denver’s collaborative culture. . We have to be transparent and we have to put our egos in check and really look at what is best for all of us, and what is best for those who need it most.

Read more: University of Colorado at Denver Invests $ 4 Million in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

There is also a new leadership framework coming in at all levels of the organization. We come here for the same thing: we believe in the mission. Inclusive excellence will determine how we do work, and instead of seeing it as its own silo, we have focused equity throughout the strategic process. From what I understand, a great champion of this model was the (now defunct) School of Education and Human Development dreean, Rebecca Cantor. She was one of the main catalysts to ensure that equity is omnipresent throughout the 2030 strategy. She co-led the research committee that selected me and I really appreciated her philosophy and vision in this area. equity. I know his legacy will absolutely continue.

What are some of your top priorities over the next few months as we head into the fall semester with in-person learning and learning activities?

One of my main priorities is to regenerate my team, as the Center for Identity and Inclusion has several key positions open at the moment. I will also be working alongside my Cabinet colleagues, Deans, Chairs, Unit Heads, Affinity Groups and those who have served on the ETF so that we can get started in the fall.

Receiving the HSI and AANAPISI designation is an important first step in becoming a culturally responsive and equity-serving institution, and I will therefore work with colleagues on campus to generate teams that will seek grant opportunities while building capacity. for change. Collaboratively, with a mindset of co-construction, the work that lies ahead requires strengthening the culture so that our employees feel that CU Denver is an educational, research and work environment to which they fully belong, and then to accelerate their growth and ensure they thrive. This summer won’t be long enough to cover everything, but we will begin the process of creating an inclusive change network where people can see themselves as active agents in creating our future without forgetting our past.

Where do you see CU Denver in the next five years?

I see CU Denver evolving and becoming an institution that centers fairness in all of its business processes and decision-making. I think our fundamental identity as an institution serving HSI and AANAPISI is going to bring about a lot of changes here, for our research, our scholarships, the way we teach, the way we do business, the way which we engage with each other, our surrounding community. , the level of compassion and care we give to each other. The change will be powerful and visceral.

What do you think it means to be a Lynx?

A Lynx is someone who always looks up on the horizon without ever forgetting his past. We are a young institution. And, at the same time, we have a rich history, and it is a powerful heritage that must be taught and honored.

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