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Working to be Obsolete


Dr. Eric R. Felix

Title: Assistant Professor, College of Education, San Diego State University

Education: B.A., history, California State University, Fullerton; M.A., educational leadership and student affairs, San Diego State University; Ph.D., urban education policy, University of Southern California

Age: 37

Mentors: Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon, University of Southern California; Dr. Shaun R. Harper, University of Southern California; Dr. Frank Harris, San Diego State University; Patricia Alvarado, California State University, Fullerton.

Words of encouragement/wisdom: “I’m all about having fun and being in a community. I say having fun because I know that I’m going to get articles rejected from journals. I know it won’t be easy to go through the tenure process. But I’m also a first-generation college student; no one expected me to even graduate college. So, I’m going to enjoy what I do. And second, I’m going to center building a community. To show my students and colleagues of color that we’re going to face challenges — and we’re still going to find optimism. There will be many times we’ll feel like outsiders as the only faculty of color. So, if we’re going to struggle in these ways, there’s a need for solidarity.”

When Dr. Eric R. Felix started his undergraduate studies at California State University, Fullerton as a firstgeneration student, a counselor in student academic support services quickly put him at ease. She spoke Spanish with Felix, often asking about his family and encouraging him to be the best scholar he could be. Felix says the counselor, Patricia Alvarado, helped him feel that his full identity not only was welcome in academia but needed. Today, through his scholarship, teaching and mentoring, Felix tries to send that same message to students from underrepresented groups.

“You don’t need to erase yourself to do this work,” says Felix, assistant professor at San Diego State University (SDSU). “We can show up in our authentic ways and push against academia. I’m all about resisting the need to conform, because conforming has never been something I’ve done in my career.”

Once, for instance, Felix wrote part of an article in Spanish for an English-speaking journal to help make a point. Felix studies higher education policy implementation, community college reform and issues of racial equity and critical policy analysis. His scholarship often involves fieldwork at community colleges and centering Latinx student experiences, helping inform the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. Felix says he sees himself as a “collaborator and co-conspirator” with these community colleges, a scholar who is focused “less on publication and more on results.”

“For me, I want my research to in some way be obsolete,” he says. “I don’t want to still be writing years from now about the ways we’ve missed the mark with racial equity in community colleges. If I do things right when working with practitioners, then hopefully I’ll have to find a new topic to study.”

When Felix became a faculty member at SDSU in 2019, he took another step toward that goal of making his work one day obsolete. He created the Community College HigherEd Access Leadership Equity Scholarship (CCHALES), a research collective of first-generation graduate students of color who study how higher education hinders racial equity — and how university systems can do better.

“Dr. Felix is someone who continues to uplift his students and help them be the best scholars they can be,” says Dr. Ángel Gonzalez, one of Felix’s nominators, a participant in CCHALES, and an adjunct faculty member at California State University, Fresno.

Gonzalez was also one of Felix’s graduate students. Today, similar to how Alvarado would encourage Felix as an undergraduate, Felix checks in on Gonzalez’s career growth, “demonstrating that [Felix] is listening and taking care of us,” says Gonzalez.

As a teacher, Felix also shows that care with a fluid syllabus in his SDSU courses. After the first week of classes and once Felix meets his students, he selects the semester’s readings. This lets him adapt the material to who is in the room. When one student spoke of being queer and autistic, for example, Felix added research to his syllabus on queer and autistic community college students.

“That student emailed me the week of those readings to say this was the first time that they’ve ever read about themselves in any class,” says Felix. “That email reminds me what the extra work is all about. I could teach policy 100 different ways, but I love to teach it to my 20 or so students in a way that meets their needs and experiences. When the readings are more interesting to them, then I can be a better teacher.”

To Gonzalez, Felix models what he teaches.

“Even though he helps us grow, he also grows himself, continuously reflecting on who he is and his own identity as a scholar,” says Gonzalez. “I think working with students, practitioners, and other researchers is a reciprocal process for him.”

Felix says the stresses of the pandemic with a young family have also taught him to model taking rests and forming community.

“I’m someone who believes the work to advance equity never rests, but the individuals doing it should,” he says. “We need to preserve ourselves before we preserve the institution.”

As for what lies ahead, Felix adds, “all I can say is I’ll continue to be committed to institutional change and to affirming practitioners on the ground but still critiquing the structures and systems they work within.”

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