Multicultural and Gender Studies

The Journey that brought Dr. Kendall Leon back to Chico

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.