By Michael Klam
In the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month 2005, Jorge Huerta is poised to direct the campaign of his life. A professor of theater at UCSD, Huerta has also been appointed Associate Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer.
UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox has asked Huerta to serve as her conscience in matters of diversity. When he accepted the job, Fox welcomed him with words of encouragement and hope. “His commitment to involving all communities in shaping UCSD’s future will only enrich the quality of campus life in the coming years,” she said.
Since Huerta began his post on Jan. 1, he has become one of the most sought-after officials on campus. And in order to carry out his mandate “to enhance UCSD’s overall diversity,” Huerta will need to be adept at building coalitions and creating an open and hospitable platform for all voices to be heard.
Huerta explains that diversity is not only a matter of race and gender. It includes the breadth of demographic and philosophical differences. A diverse institution supports multiplicity by valuing individuals and groups without prejudice. Mutual respect remains the primary objective.
Huerta has his work cut out for him, however. In a recent UCSD Guardian op-ed piece, the author wrote, “In some instances, our public campuses are morphing into hotbeds of incivility, intolerance, lack of intellectual diversity, harassment, intimidation and breach of contract.”
The author went on to say, “Most faculty members are responsible, courteous, professional educators, but a growing number both liberal and conservative run their classrooms as if managing little Abu Ghraibs.”
Huerta states that lack of diversity is a nationwide dilemma. Proposition 209 in California has made recruiting very difficult. The 1996 voter-approved initiative bans affirmative action based on race and gender for state and local agencies. UCSD must diversify by federal policy, but cannot consider race and gender by state policy.
“We basically have to diversify without preferential treatment,” Huerta says. “It’s a thin line. We can think it. But we cannot say it.”
UC Berkeley’s new chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, said in April of this year that the university suffered a “diversity crisis.” He blamed Proposition 209.
In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Birgeneau also said that minority students “feel completely isolated and are very angry and feel this is a hostile environment for them.”
Huerta admits that students at UCSD do complain about professors being inaccessible.
“Students are closer to staff in support services than faculty,” he says. But he also believes that students must take an active role in communicating. ”I am looking for ways to have students see that we professors are human.”
“Students also have power over the climate,” says Huerta. ”They say that this is an unfriendly place. I say, ‘Well, who did you smile at today?’”
Huerta has several programs in-the-making to foster open dialogue for all stakeholders to understand what represents diversity.
On the lighter side, Huerta says he will initiate a “smile campaign.”
On the proactive front, Huerta has plans for a “Dialogue on Race,” a type of diversity think tank, that will include an advisory committee made up of the directors of the three centers: the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender?Association and the Women’s Center.
A task force on staffing diversity will report to a council of chancellors.
Huerta will continue to visit sister campuses and other universities to learn from their successes.
A “Diversity Matters” Web page is being created as a forum to discuss issues. Huerta wants his office to serve as a “clearinghouse” for all matters of cultural and intellectual diversity.
Huerta, for his part, is raring to go. He is a 30-year university man who has proven his mettle by rising to the top of his field. ”Heaven seems to be the next step,” he says brightly. “I’m doing this because I believe in positive change.”
A former high school teacher, Huerta became a professional director, professor and scholar. His credits include Chancellor’s Associates Endowed Chair III as professor of Theatre at UCSD.
He is a leading authority on contemporary Chicano and U.S. Latino Theater. He basically wrote the book on Chicano theater and his texts are used in universities across the nation. He is both an author and an anthologist: “Chicano Theatre: Themes and Forms” (Bilingual Press, 1982) and “Chicano Drama: Performance, Society, and Myth” (Cambridge 2000).
Huerta was the first Chicano to receive a Ph.D. in Theater. He founded El Teatro de la Esperanza and was also a co-founder of the Old Globe’s Teatro Meta and co-founder of Teatro Máscara M‡gica. He has been a panelist and reviewer for the California Arts Council, the National Research Council, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Born and bred in East Los Angeles, Huerta’s Chicano upbringing has taught him the meaning of hard work and perseverance two values celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month.
From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Hispanic leaders are acknowledged in every field from politics to the sciences to theater. Schools and municipalities award Hispanic youth for their achievements in activism, academics and sports.
The month-long designation is an opportunity to recognize, study and learn from the accomplishments and contributions of past Hispanic leaders, thinkers and artists: Cásar Chavez, Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo, Lalo Alcaraz.
It is also a time to acknowledge the living leaders, Nobel Prize-winner in Chemistry Mario J. Molina, Author Sandra Cisneros, Chicana elder Gracia Molina de Pick.
Building on that heritage, and his background as a director and scholar of Chicano theater, Huerta will approach his half-time work as Chief Diversity Officer with a similar philosophy as his work in theater.
Huerta views the stage as a place where people make connections to their own lives and share a common understanding.
It’s been said that you need three basic things in theat-er: the play, the actors and the audienceand each must give something.
In Huerta’s case, the university campus is the stage, and the complex society of staff and students are the players. The entire communityconstantly reinventing itself, constantly calling into question the theory of the melting potis the audience.
In the Chancellor’s Office, Huerta will serve as liaison between the various communities, coordinating efforts and working with colleagues university-wide to be a champion of diversity.
“You cannot have excellence without diversity,” he says.