Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Kendall Leon

Name: Kendall Leon

Hometown: Born in Santa Maria, raised in Chico

Role on campus: Assistant professor, Department of English

Years on campus: 1.5

Did you or do you have plans to continue your education beyond a four-year degree? I have a PhD in rhetoric and writing.

Why did you choose Chico? I chose Chico specifically because of the large first-generation and Latinx/Chicanx student populations, and because I was an alum (I graduated with my BA in multicultural and gender studies in 2001 and my master’s degree in English in 2005).

What first sparked your interest in a college education? Actually, it was luck that I ended up in college. I left my family home as a junior in high school. A friend’s mother was taking her son to register for Chico State. Back then, if I recall, we just showed up with our high school transcripts for a registration day. I tagged along and registered as well. If I hadn’t been invited to join them, I honestly am not sure if I would have attended college. Once enrolled, I realized that education was opportunity for me to create a better, more positive life trajectory than the one I was headed down.

What were some barriers that prevented others in your family from completing a four-year degree? Poverty, violence, sexism, and teenage parents.

Who can you point to as a mentor or inspiration in your pursuit of a four-year degree and why? The multicultural and gender studies program and many of the professors in that program and in the English department completely changed my life. And really, the faculty at Chico State saw a potential in me that I didn’t know was there. They were a lifeline for me. It was due to my experiences at Chico State that I wanted to become a college professor, and to connect with students who might not yet recognize their own potential or know how to actualize it.

What does being first-gen mean to you? Being a changemaker in institutional spaces. Being first-gen is creating a new path for my family. In other words, first-gen is by nature transformative.

What challenges do you struggle with or have you overcome as a result of being first-gen? One challenge I faced was I had no idea how to seek out resources on campus, including applying for scholarships. I really wish I had done so! I also found myself deeply afraid of failure and, in hindsight, I recognize that I avoided getting involved or at times challenging myself precisely to avoid failing or to be seen as “an imposter” who doesn’t belong. I also knew that getting a college degree and finding a job was pivotal for my survival. It was my way out, so I was often scared of screwing it up. Many of these struggles I still have, even as a faculty member.

What is your wildest ambition? To not stop learning and to raise my kids to be kind, thoughtful, and grateful human beings.

What message do you want to send other first-gen students? See your experiences and background as assets that can be leveraged to change institutions.