Multicultural and Gender Studies

Spotlights

CHLX Professor Dr. Paul Lopez

Sources: Former student Kassandra Garcia and Dr. Susan Green, MCGS Professor

portrait of lopez

For the last five years, Dr. Paul López and his colleagues in the MCGS (Multicultural & Gender Studies) department at Chico State advocated for a Chicanx/Latinx major. It was imperative to him that Chicanx/Latinx studies be extended as a Bachelor’s degree, and not only offered as a minor. 

 “It could be argued that this should have happened 15 years ago,” López said, noting that the major could have been used long before it was actually implemented. “Latinos are the fastest growing population and the largest in California by far.”

 These growing Chicanx/Latinx populations mean that the demand for knowledge of their culture and heritage is increasing. It is necessary to educate people who are planning to work with Chicanx/Latinx communities so that they are able to be strong, compassionate and informed allies. Without the push from López, CSU Chico may have never had the opportunity to offer this major.

 Kassandra Garcia, a senior CHLX major, reflected on the impact Dr. López has on the program.

“Dr. López is one of the few faculty members of the CHLX department. Starting as a freshman, he was one of my first MCGS and CHLX professors. He inspires the students to learn about the oppressions of the CHLX community,” Garcia said. “He inspired me to further my education with CHLX studies.”

 With 40% of California’s population being Chicanx/Latinx, graduates of this degree have endless possibilities for where they could take their career post-college. Whether it be a career in the nonprofit sector, consumer data, or public school system— the call for cross-cultural skills to serve our complex multicultural society is persistent. The desire for this community to feel seen, heard, and equitably served is one of the many reasons why López was so adamant about implementing the new Bachelor’sdegree for our students. 

 Why declare a major in Chicanx/Latinx Studies? “It is mainly about your ability to market yourself,” López said. “Demographically, there is an advantage now. California and states in the Southwest are going to need specialists, people who know this community.” 

 It was the same thought López had when he started his college career. Originally considering a degree in African-American studies, he decided to focus his attention on Chicanx/Latinx studies, as he thought there would be greater opportunities. Fully dedicating himself to the courses he was taking, López knew by the time he was a junior at California State University, Northridge that he wanted to be a professor and teach the material he was so passionate about. 

 “I spent my last two and a half years pouring over books. I had no social life,” López recalls. The studying prepared him for his next step: writing a letter to a professor at the University of Notre Dame who was known for his expertise on Mexican Immigration at the time. “He actually wrote me back and asked me to apply.” 

 In Spring of 1982, Lopez was accepted into the sociology program at Notre Dame. Since there were no Ph.D. Chicanx/Latinx programs, and few programs in which Chicanx/Latinx communities received adequate attention, he made the decision to move his life across the country. From Northridge to South Bend, Indiana, López earned his Master’s degree in Sociology— specializing in Mexican Immigration. 

 Planning on receiving his doctorate degree, his life took a shift when his wife became pregnant with their first child. Feeling like going back to California was the right choice for his blooming family, López took a break from school and started teaching part time. It was only 4 years later that he realized he wanted to obtain his doctorate degree in sociology. Still focusing on Mexican Immigration, he went deeper into the analysis of the labor market. 

 Idaho was where he was officially hired as a Mexican-American Studies professor. Since López never had the opportunity to focus his academic career solely on the Latinx community, this was a big step for him, one that validated all the work he had put into researching the Chicanx/Latinx community. Although he was happy with his teaching accomplishments in Idaho, he knew he did not want to stay there forever. 

 That is why, when he received two offers, one at Chico State and one at Fresno State, he knew it was his chance to return to California. With a wife, three kids and three dogs, it was important to López that he make the decision based on where his family would thrive best.

 It turned out that Chico was the best option for them. He accepted the offer and was hired alongside Dr. Susan M. Green, another MCGS professor at Chico State who pursued a career in Chicanx studies. Green’s current research concentrates on the history of Chicanx movements and their fight for equity and justice. “She has been a great partner,” López said of Green. 

 Green feels the same fondness for López. Working together as advisors for M.E.Ch.A, (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) a student-run organization who functions to recruit students into higher education while advancing the civil and human rights of Chicanx students on campus, the two grew close in fighting for the new major. The two have also marched together with M.E.Ch.A on miles-long protests, where they practiced their activism and passion for equity.

 “We have been the best of friends and colleagues in the struggle,” Green said, reflecting on their 22-year-long relationship. “He is willing to do anything to help students grow and be successful as people, and at any time of day.”

portrait of lopez and green


Part of the struggle Green is referring to was the slow response from Chico State administration in making the Chicanx/Latinx major transpire. Despite the constant support from students, and the letters that were sent to administration from M.E.Ch.A, it took a long time for the administration to understand how necessary this pursuit was. Even so, López insisted that it was a struggle worth advocating for. 

 The individuals who work closest with López commend him for his willingness to stand up for what is right and protect his students’ best interests. Instead of playing it safe and trying to win over the administration by sticking with what they knew, he pushed better resources for his colleagues and students. 

 “He's fought tirelessly, not only for more Chicanx/Latinx students on campus, but also more faculty and staff across campus to support those students,” Green said of his impact on the lives around him. “He was part of the movement to make Chico State a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which will be an enduring benefit for generations to come.”

 “I had to put my foot down. Do some boycotting here and there when it was not popular,” López said. In order for change to be made, it is necessary to not accept things that so obviously need reform. This influenced the relationship López had with Chico State’s administration. “They have never been too fond of me. If I see something that is messed up and needs to be fixed, I will push the envelope.”

Such is López’s research on braceros, or guest workers from Mexico from the mid 20th century. His research examines how some former participants in the U.S-Mexico Bracero Program set down roots in the United States rather than going home when their invitation was rescinded. 

 “Their histories are eerily reminiscent of the current oppressive situation with undocumented immigration,” says MCGS and CHLX colleague Sara E. Cooper. “We want their brazos (arms) to do our most back-breaking labor, where they risk dangers from heat exhaustion to pesticide poisoning to Covid, and yet we don’t want to provide them health care or the dignity of a secure life with their families.” 

 López has published two books on the matter, The Braceros: Guest Workers, Settlers, and Family Legacies and Que Fronteras?: Mexican Braceros and a Re-examination of the Legacy of Migration.

 López’s willingness to “push the envelope” encapsulates the approach taken by students and faculty of the MCGS department entirely. Their mission is to critically examine the injustices that plague our world, and work to advance social justice through informed activism. The only way that this mission could be accomplished is by expanding the resources available to students, and providing the best possible education as social justice warriors. It is only fitting that they extend this offer of a Bachelor’s degree in Chicanx/Latinx studies. 

 “This is the perfect late storm,” López exclaimed.

The Journey that brought Dr. Kendall Leon back to Chico

From walking through campus as a Chico State undergraduate to becoming a professor in the English department, Dr. Kendall Leon began at Chico State as a regular student just like the rest of us. Leon graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in Multicultural and Gender Studies with an option in Women’s Studies. She was part of the first-ever cohort that graduated from the department and is happy that she made her way back to Chico after moving away to chase her academic goals. 

portrait of kendall leon

Leon mentioned how she was not on a good path in high school and was encouraged to apply to Chico State by her former partner’s mom. The now professor is grateful for that intervention because otherwise, the chances of her reaching higher education would have been slim. Leon came to Chico State with the intention to pursue a Spanish major so she could teach. Along the way, she stumbled on an Intro to Women's Studies class and loved it, which motivated her to officially declare the MCGS major. 

As imagined, the MCGS department has changed drastically since Leon’s time as a student, and she got to see it evolve right before her eyes. 20 years ago, Chico State was much different than it is now, and there weren’t nearly as many resources committed to the MCGS department. If you were to close your eyes and think back to that era, you would see huge differences in student demographics, classes, infrastructure and professors. The MCGS department was not nearly as recognized, and was not a prominent space for Chicanx/Latinx students like it is today. 

“As a student, I never knew all of the behind the scenes, but I think most of the faculty weren’t hired to teach MCGS, and now they are,” Leon said.

Chico State has long had an MCGS program with a major and several minors; however, for decades the program lacked resources, dedicated faculty lines, and even department status. Dr. Leon recalls that all her professors were primarily attached to other “real” departments, such as English, History, or Sociology. As the former MCGS student says, this is a different story today. MCGS has five full-time tenure-track faculty, three shared faculty, and eleven lecturers.

As an undergrad, Leon dedicated a lot of time to the student body and campus concerns. She was the director of the Gender and Sexuality Equity Coalition (GSEC), which at the time was called the Women’s Center. This student-run program fosters skills in many areas, from health to event coordination to direct action.

“What I am so excited about with the CHLX and MCGS majors is that they are interdisciplinary, they prepare students to be change-makers in a wide range of occupations and fields,” Leon said. 

As a student of the MCGS department, Leon was highly involved in the community. She stated that being part of the MCGS major comes with working in community-based projects and investing your time in building relationships. 

“We did so many different projects, volunteer work for the Chapmantown area, Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, and again, it was partly because of the major I chose,” Leon said. “It was encouraged to connect what we were learning and see what we could do with it, it wasn't just about what you could learn in a classroom.”

She finished her undergrad and continued at Chico State to obtain her Master of Arts. After completing her education in Chico, she was ready to branch out and start a new chapter. Fresh out of Chico, Leon had an interest in becoming a lawyer and began working at a law firm in Sacramento. However, as many of us do, she decided that it was not the path for her and had another plan in mind. 

A fresh start was waiting for Dr. Leon in a Ph.D. program at Michigan State University,  where she found her love for rhetoric and composition. 

“I always loved English, so I decided to apply to the English department, and I wanted my focus to be Chicano literature,” Leon said. “Then I ended up changing that after taking some classes in rhetoric and composition.”

After digging deeper to find what she wanted to specialize in, Dr. Leon received her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing with an emphasis in communities, culture and technology in 2010. 

One of the projects that Leon took on during her Ph.D. program was to write about one of the first Chicanx feminist organizations and study their organizational writing. This is a prime example of how Leon used her MCGS background and applied it in another area of study. 

“I want people to obtain these majors and then work in business or other fields and change the culture of these places,” Leon said. 

After graduating with her Ph.D., Dr. Leon was on the move to something new once again. Leaving her mark in every city she stepped in, it was time to touch a new one. She received her first job teaching at Purdue University in Indiana and spent three years there. After deciding that the Midwest was not her ideal place to live, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and was hired at Portland State University. In her time there, she was the director of the Technical and Professional Writing Program. 

Finally, in 2016, Dr. Leon was contacted for a position at Chico State that focused on Chicanx and rhetoric. As a former student, she was excited to be back and felt that she could connect with students more. Although Dr. Leon is in the English department, she has found a way to connect two of her passions and teach what she loves. 

Professor Leon has been a wonderful addition to the English Department, the College of Humanities & Fine Arts, and the campus as a whole,” said Peter Kittle, chair of the English Department at Chico State. “She has expertise in rhetoric, technical and professional writing, and literacy, as well as a significant record of research into successful writing program designs for Hispanic Serving Institutions. And on top of that, her students rave about her teaching. We’re so lucky to have someone like Prof. Leon in the English Department.”

One of the main takeaways from graduating from the MCGS department is the drive and passion that comes from getting  involved and being a changemaker. One of Dr. Leon’s early examples of being an activist for equity and inclusivity was when she worked on the newsletter that the GSEC created for the university when she was an undergrad. She minored in English, which led her to realize something important. 

“I wrote this article about how the English department should analyze the course offerings, and how they were so white,” Leon said. “I dropped the newsletters off at the department, which is funny because now I teach there.”

Fast forward 20 years, Dr. Kendall Leon is a tenured, Associate Professor of English at Chico State, where she finds ways to educate her students on essential cultural topics. As a person of color, Leon has gone through so many stages of her professional career navigating predominantly white spaces; despite all challenges she leaves an impact everywhere she’s been. 

Leon is part of the 21% of women of color who obtain a doctoral degree and is using her knowledge to empower students and people in her community every day.

“Dr. Leon is one of the best professors that I’ve ever had,” said Morgan Parker, Leon’s former student. “She is clearly passionate about what she teaches, and her energy is contagious. Above all else, it’s evident that she truly cares about her students and wants them to succeed. We need more teachers like Dr. Leon, and I hope to have the same positive impact on my students that Dr. Leon has had on me.”

To put it simply, Leon is someone who earned a degree in MCGS and utilized that unique opportunity to elevate herself and her other passions. Dr. Leon is the epitome of someone who came full circle to teach and give back to her community, in the same place where it all started: Chico, California.

Kassandra Garcia and her Experience as a CHLX Major

Kassandra Garcia is completing her last semester at California State University Chico online; she’s majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis in Accounting as well as a second major in Intersectional in Chicanx Latinx studies and a minor in diversity studies.  

Growing up with both Spanish and English as her first languages and being a Mexican American, reading and writing were Garcia’s low points. She recalls her sophomore year of high school when her teacher told her she was reading at a 4th grade reading level. She felt embarrassed and set out to avoid reading and writing as much as possible.

Coming into college she continued the mindset of hating any reading and writing, she recalls going to her CHLX studies professor, Ayde Enríquez-Loya,and sharing her frustration for an upcoming essay. Her professor understood her frustration and told her that Mexicans are put down for their style of writing.

 “We just have a different style of writing that gets under appreciated,” Garcia said. “I remember after taking that class I was just like, I'm going to minor in it. This is it. This is the minor that I want to do.”

“I went from hating reading and writing to loving it.”

During her third year at Chico state Garcia had heard the news that Chicanx/Latinx studies would become a major. She felt like she was too late to make it one of her majors and hesitated to make the leap. It wasn’t until she gave Dr. Sara E. Cooper a visit and shared her passion for CHLX.\

“I left that office with my paper to declare my major in CHLX studies,” Garcia said. “Originally I was just going for business but it’s those unexpected things that happen in life that take you through a different route.”

Dr. Cooper is the Associate Chair of the Multicultural and Gender Studies Department  (MCGS) and remembers Garcia from one of her Latinx Film classes. Dr. Cooper shared that Garcia was a very attentive student but wouldn’t speak up unless being called on. She remembers Garcia coming into her office a year later. 

I asked Kassandra what was important to her, what was one injustice in the world that she would like to help make better. She said emphatically that she wanted more than anything to work within her community, to make a difference for the next generation.” Dr. Cooper said. “I responded that with her passion she could make a strong leader and role model, and that she should learn all she could about Chicanx/Latinx issues and social movements.”      

The CHLX studies major will challenge you in ways that you least expect it. You get a closer look and dive into the injustices and oppressions within the CHLX community but at the same time you will get a greater sense of the unity, power and pride the CHLX community has to offer.

Garcia described the resilience, and fierce empowerment of the community a key to her success in college .

“It gave me the drive to stay in college because we are the future and we need Latinx and Chicanx people in higher fields.” she said. 

Garcia encourages others to take a CHLX course and learn more about a part of history that isn’t in the history books we read in high school. As well as essential classes that prepare you for a more diverse and inclusive career environment. Most careers would benefit from an employee with the knowledge on diversity. 

“Having that diverse mindset and bringing that into a job field would make a better society in itself,” Garcia said. “Bringing in those different perspectives can also bring inclusivity into a job field.”

After graduating Garcia plans to get her Masters Degree in Chicanx/Latinx studies and hopes to have an impact within the Education System by inspiring students with CHLX studies. She also plans to volunteer in different non-profit organizations that focus on underrepresented communities. 

Garcia expressed her gratitude towards all the CHLX professors that have helped her grow and better herself.