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A Catalyst for Change

A Catalyst for Change
After leading the National Council of La Raza for more than 30 years,
Raul Yzaguirre takes his fight for civil rights to Arizona State University.
By Garry Boulard

TEMPE, Ariz.
Raul Yzaguirre takes note, with pleasure, of the
growing number of minorities making up Arizona State University’s
student enrollment — 31 percent in the fall of 2004.

“The Latino student percentage at Arizona State University is not,
of course, equal to the Latino percentage in the local community,” he
says. “But we are making significant progress in that area, and have
seen increases in the numbers last year and the year before that.”

In fact, Hispanics at ASU now make up more than 12 percent of the
student body, at 7,325 out of a total student enrollment of 61,033. And
they saw their numbers increase by about 7.5 percent this academic year
over the year before. By comparison, Hispanics compose roughly 60
percent of the general population in the greater Tempe-Phoenix area, a
percentage that is expected to grow in the years ahead.
serving on the national stage as the president and CEO of the National
Council of La Raza, it makes sense that Yzaguirre is interested in the
racial and ethnic dynamics of ASU. Last January, after working with
NCLR since the mid-1970s and seeing it emerge as the most influential
Hispanic policy institute in the country, Yzaguirre announced that he
was joining the ASU faculty (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Jan. 27, 2005).

His charge? To develop a Hispanic-based community development
institute and assist the school’s efforts to raise money, recruit
minority faculty and students and establish partnerships with minority
groups. It was a move that was widely seen as a major coup for the ASU
community, which has thoroughly embraced him in the past year.

“He has proven himself to be a major force here,” says ASU President
Michael M. Crow, “showing us that he is not just a moving-forward kind
of guy, but also someone who instinctively understands the core issues
related to community development and civil rights and knows how to get
things done.”

Says Alonzo Jones, the past president of the ASU African American
Alumni chapter and current director of the school’s multicultural
student services, “What has been most interesting to me is how the
students here have received him. Almost from the moment he got here he
made a point of reaching out to other communities on the ASU campus and
really interfacing with them.”

“The idea behind establishing a dialogue with the students was
simple,” says Yzaguirre. “I want to advocate for their concerns, but
you cannot really know or understand what those concerns are unless you
are willing to meet with them and truly listen.”

Most of Yzaguirre’s energy has been devoted to the creation of the
ASU Center for Community Development and Civil Rights. Located in
downtown Phoenix, the center opened its doors last fall in a building
that is currently only shared by a provost and an administration

But that promises to be a temporary situation. The building,
complete with classrooms, is projected to accommodate upwards of 20,000
students within the next five years.

Yzaguirre, officially a presidential professor of practice in
community development and civil rights in the College of Public
Programs at ASU, is also the executive director of the center.

“We are already doing projects from this center, including a civil
rights lecture series,” he says. “But we are going to do much more in
the months ahead, especially as it relates to the community.”

That community in Phoenix and most of south central Arizona is
dominated by prosperous suburban and exurban sprawl. But noticeable
pockets of lower-income Hispanic, American Indian and Black populations
are challenged by the health, employment and education issues normally
associated with underdevelopment.

“There is so much work to do,” says Yzaguirre. “Just trying to work
with and understand what we can do to intervene with the young Latino
males who are falling very significantly behind females in academic
achievement and dropping out of school at a high rate is challenging
enough. And that is just one of the many areas in which we are going to
become involved.”

The center will also be devoted to community issues, education for practitioners and public research.

“I am really trying to be a catalyst and facilitator for things to
happen here,” says the 66-year-old Yzaguirre. “Basically, I can raise
the issues. But that can only go so far unless a school has good
leadership and knows where to take those issues. And in this case, at
ASU, the leadership has exceeded my expectations. So we expect to see
more good things happen along these lines in the future.”

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