Insight

Dr. César A. Cruz Previews His Super Conference 2017 Keynote Address

Dr_César_A._Cruz


A contingent of education counselors will descend upon San Antonio, TX, to take part in Super Conference 2017 with Rocky Mountain and Southern ACACs. Taking place from April 23 to 25 at the Marriott Rivercenter San Antonio, the gathering is jam-packed with informative panels and networking opportunities for counselors.

Educator/author/activist Dr. Cesar A. Cruz will give the conference’s keynote address. Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Dr. Cruz immigrated to the U.S. as a child with his mother and grandmother. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in History and has been an educator for 23 years, in various positions of leadership, most recently serving as the Dean of Secondary Schools Program at Harvard University. Currently running Homies Empowerment Program serving gang impacted/involved youth in Oakland, CA, he brings a unique perspective to his work.

Ahead of his keynote address, Dr. Cruz spoke with YouVisit while driving from Oakland to Los Angeles about his upcoming speech.

Thanks for taking time to speak with us. How did you feel when you were invited to give the keynote address?
Dr. Cesar A. Cruz: Deeply elated and very thankful. The job that a college counselor has is deeply important. When you have people from all walks of life — some with experience and some who are first-generation students — often times it can be a make or break session. It could be a student showing up who is really thinking about their future or someone on the verge of dropping out. I don’t want to understate the influence that a college counselor has.

Getting a chance to travel to the South to meet counselors from different states, take part in a pep talk and motivate them is great. Sometimes we get so concerned about the politics that are happening in our country and the resources that we have that we forget that we have a lot of agency. These are college counselors that have a position in an institution and we can be deeply resourceful. I’m not assuming they’re not but for anyone who’s feeling a little burned out or feeling like politics are in the way, well, I want to remind them of the agency we have. Why did we get into this profession in the first place?

I’ve been an educator for 23 years so I deeply value educators and counselors. It’s a sacred calling. I don’t think it’s above anything else … but it’s important work. That said, I’m deeply honored to speak and the hour will be interactive.

“I show videos, slides, poems — I try to reach as many with as many ways as possible while not skirting difficult subjects or conversations.”

Are there any specific topics you plan to address during your speech?
Absolutely. One of the things that’s huge in the research field when it comes to both education and psychology is the Rosenthal or Pygmalion effect. In a nutshell, Robert Rosenthal conducted a study in the 1960s to try to understand how counselors think of students and how that may or may not impact how they treat them. I want to share and unpack that with the counselors if I’m talking to a genius, then I might treat them a certain way. If I think someone who barely made it to the university and I sift through their challenges, then I might treat them a certain way. There’s actual evidence of that. So what I want to do is unpack the Pygmalion effect and the four questions Dr. Rosenthal asked: Who do we give the most attention to? Who do we give the least attention to? Who do we give more differentiated feedback? And who do we challenge? These self-assessment questions are really important for counselors because we’re not judging them and to understand who they are and aren’t paying attention to.

Another concept I really want to unpack is savior’s complex in education. The root of that is in the last 30 years of education. Often times we see a hero mythical education figure in a deficit community. Often times some of us begin to think our role is bigger than we are. Our role isn’t to save students; it’s to walk with students and help them see different avenues. The last thing we want to do is to be discouraging to students.

The last thing we will talk about is what it’s like for students that are not the majority on a campus — what’s their experience like? Imagine a student walks into a college campus and they are they majority and feel at home. I want to unpack what that feels like and remind [the counselors] of their college days when they felt comfortable and didn’t. What is our roles [sic] as counselors when [the college] becomes a home for some and alien territory for others.

I also want to talk about the Dreamers’ movement, because we have a whole generation of undocumented youth. Depending on where we fall on the political spectrum, what happens when we begin to demonize students and believe they aren’t worthy of my attention or support? Are we following our oath to serve all students? What does equity look like in higher education?

“I want to leave people feeling not fearful or demoralized but inspired and thinking about new strategies and self-reflection and things they can build on their campuses in so-called difficult times.”

You have a unique point of view because of your work as an educator, author and activist. What are some of the biggest challenges among attendees?
There’s an old adage that people don’t care how much you know — they care about how much you care. So the first 15 minutes in framing things I will be super asset-based, thinking about how counselors do beautiful, sacred work. I want to empathize with them, and there’s a video I show that really talks about empathy. There’s a video from the Cleveland clinic, a four-minute segment that wonders what it would be like to walk in someone’s shoes. You see people of every hue and ethnicity … after four minutes we create the opportunity for empathy to happen. If that begins to happen, then it’s easier to talk about politics no matter which end of the spectrum we lean toward. That’s my hope. You can’t have one lesson for 1,800 people and think somehow one way of doing things is going to be effective all the way around. I show videos, slides, poems — I try to reach as many with as many ways as possible while not skirting difficult subjects or conversations.

Is this a difficult time to be a counselor?
Absolutely. We live in the unknown and have a very talked about National Secretary of Education and everyone’s jumping to conclusions. Maybe that’s the easiest thing for people to do … we don’t know what the policies are and often times we operate out of fear.

I think a big thing that is permeating our fear is the notion of the privatizing of education. Some of that is not just fear-based — it’s conversations we’ve heard from our president that is prioritizing a voucher movement. So for the advocates of public education there’s a deep sense of Oh, we’re not going to get funded … There’s something to be concerned about but no need to be alarmist. We need to think how we can mobilize and bring new champions to education from different sectors. I want to leave people feeling not fearful or demoralized but inspired and thinking about new strategies and self-reflection and things they can build on their campuses in so-called difficult times.

Since we’re an immersive technology company that creates experiences for colleges and universities I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you’ve tried VR. If so, what did you think of it?
Recently I heard about this amazing exhibit in Oakland about the Black Panthers celebrating 40 years. They created an experience where you can look at a street in 1968 or 1970 and experience that street at that time. It’s dynamic and takes learning to the next level. I can’t wait to use the technology and explore it.

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