Q&A with Dr. John Vasquez

Q&A with Dr. John Vasquez

Stephanie Davison, Staff Reporter

Meet Central Washington University’s new Associate Dean of Access and Equity, John Vasquez. Vasquez has a bachelor’s degree in Organization Studies, a master’s of Health Services Administration (MHSA) in Public Health & Policy, as well as a doctoral degree in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education from Michigan State University (MSU). He hopes to bring a bilingual high school-to-college pipeline program called Exito Educativo to Central, which he previously aided in developing at MSU.

Q: What got you interested in the field of Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education? 

A: Dr. Timmit Gebru said it best: “They wanted to have my presence, but not me exactly. They wanted to have the idea of me being at Google, but not the reality of me being at Google.”  

I believe there is an exhaustion that comes with having discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion, especially for Black, Indigenous and other minoritized student populations.

 I consider it a part of my job (regardless of my title or position) as a highly educated cisgender male, who can sometimes pass for white, to engage in discussions around DEI. I believe if DEI is what an institution REALLY wants and is something our community is REALLY striving for, then I need to be ready to help the community engage in some of that reflection. 

As someone who has been both marginalized and benefitted by my experience in higher education, I believe it is part of my moral duty to engage with university and college communities in not only engaging in conversations around things like racism, sexism, and other “ism” but also to assess institutional policies, practices and procedures to assess how we are marginalizing different communities of students and figure out ways to make them more equitable.  

I think it’s important that our students not only survive college (and higher education in general), I think the onus is on us to help them thrive.

Q: If you were to give CWU students one piece of advice, what would it be?

A: As you go through your experience at CWU, try to figure out (and understand) what you are passionate about AND what your purpose is! I like to tell students, “My passion is working with students; my purpose is equity in higher education.” 

When I say, “I’m passionate about working with students,” it means that if a student group wants me to meet with them at 9 o’clock at night because they have an important issue they want to discuss, I will be there at 9 o’clock at night. 

Saying “equity is my purpose” means I look at the ways that institutions might be developing barriers to access and success, consciously and unconsciously, especially for Black, Indigenous and other students of color that may inadvertently stifle their success and keep them from reaching “their greatness.”

 After working in higher education for over 20 years, I realized that institutions tend to take a “fix the student” approach in trying to help.  They focus on what a student “can or can’t do” or “isn’t prepared to do,” rather than thinking about the systemic barriers and hurdles that we put up for them, such as exclusive departmental cultures, reporting systems for microaggressions, complex bureaucracies to access financial aid, as well as “the hidden curriculum” in academia. 

These issues are especially difficult for first-generation students.  Understanding what I’m passionate about and my purpose, has allowed me to really stay engaged with my work, and especially with students after all these years.

I’ve got lots of colleagues that moved on to higher positions and many ask me why I have not. For me, it’s because I like working with students and understanding this passion has allowed me to make the “the right” decisions when thinking about what I want to do with my career and to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Q: What are some of your favorite hobbies? 

A: My family loves the outdoors, so I go trail running a lot with my partner and we go on lots of hikes and walks with our dog, Seger. We are excited to try out all the awesome trails available in Ellensburg. I’ve also been trying my hand at restoring old furniture for our home. For example, I’ve had an old desk I got at CWU Surplus I’ve been working on the past couple of weeks. It needs some sanding and a new coat of paint. But let’s be honest, I’ve been so busy with the start of the semester, it may be a while before I get it done!

Q: What is your favorite movie? 

A: This is a tough one! I love sci-fi movies, especially those from the 1980s when I was a kid. Aliens, the 1986 movie with Sigourney Weaver is my all-time favorite. However, there’s a ton more: Dune, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the Last Starfighter, Critters, Enemy Mine, the Thing, The Fly, Krull! Look, I’m not saying I’m old, but let’s face it, in the 1980’s there were only like 3 channels on television. You had to position your wire hanger that you used for clothes on our television to get reception just right or else you got static. It was such a hassle it was easier (and cheaper) to go out to the movies (the drive-in specifically) to watch movies!

Q: What is your favorite book?  

A: Also, another hard one! On the personal, fun side, I like anthologies and/or collected stories, especially scary/horror stories. Night Shift from Stephen King was one of my favorites. I remember as a 10-year-old trying to read it and having nightmares for a full week afterwards. It didn’t help that I also liked watching scary movies, so as a child I don’t think I got more than 4 hours of sleep a night.

On the professional/inspirational side I like Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. There’s a quote in the book that really speaks to me: “Nosotros los Chicanos straddle the borderlands. On one side of us, we are constantly exposed to the Spanish of the Mexicans, on the other side we hear the Anglos’ incessant clamoring so that we forget our language.” 

Anzaldúa uses the term borderlands to refer to “la mezcla,” the geographical area along the border that is neither fully Mexico nor the U.S. She also uses the term to describe people, those of us who have become a part of both worlds, Mexican-Americans, and who’s both cultural expectations we abide by. 

As a practitioner turned scholar, I am now also part of a new mezcla, a group of scholar-practitioners, former student activists who are now administrators and faculty members, trying to break down barriers, in the hopes of creating massive change in the higher education system. In many ways, I feel like I’m straddling borders trying to make change while trying NOT to forget where I come from.