Assistant Dean Richard Chavolla, the first director of the University’s newly consolidated Latino cultural center, is leaving for the nation’s capital after four years at Yale.
Chavolla made the decision to leave after his wife, Anna Ortega-Chavolla gained a full-time position with a Washington-based organization, the National Council for Education and Community Partnerships. He will soon begin searching for a job in the Washington area.
A search committee, headed by professor Stuart Schwartz, editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review, is being formed to find Chavolla’s replacement.
Ortega-Chavolla started in a temporary consultant position at National Council for Education and Community Partnerships at the beginning of the school year, and it evolved into the offer of a full-time project director position, which she accepted.
During his time as an assistant dean of Yale College, Chavolla served in many posts, including director of the Native American Cultural Center, director of the new Latino cultural center, director of the Math and Science Tutoring program and director of the Yale College tutoring program.
Chavolla was instrumental in consolidating two cultural houses, one for Puerto Ricans and the other for Mexicans and Chicanos, into one cultural center for all Latino students, including those from Mexico, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. The new cultural house opened this year.
Chavolla broke the news to a tearful but supportive group of students at yesterday’s meeting of Despierta Boricua, Yale’s Puerto Rican student organization. The meeting included members of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, known as MEChA, as well as some of next year’s Latino ethnic counselors. Students at the meeting said Chavolla’s influence has been unmatched.
“He’s instituted so many fundamental changes that his tenure here will be felt for years on end,” said Francisco Lopez ’02, the moderator of MEChA. “There are two sides to Dean Chavolla, what he’s done at large and what he’s done on a smaller level — building a family for the Chicano students, his personal interactions with students and how he puts that ahead of everything else.”
Ortega-Chavolla left her job in Arizona to come to Yale when Chavolla became a dean. Chavolla said her presence has been integral to his success throughout his time here, especially at times when he felt that the cultural centers were being forgotten by the University community.
“I’m so immersed in what we are doing here, and I feel it’s important on so many levels for students to have cultural centers and ethnic counselors,” Chavolla said. “I believe in these things strongly, and when you believe in them strongly, it’s difficult when other people don’t see them as important and don’t necessarily give those issues a lot of thought — its simply not a part of who they are, it can lead to you feeling isolated. When Anna’s here — that’s my main support system — we’re there to energize each other, and without her here, going through those things has been difficult.”
Chavolla has helped to bring the Latino Cultural Center to the forefront of campus life, said Li Yun Alvarado ’02, a representative of El Concilio, the group formed to bring together the Latino student organizations.
“La Casa is a place now, a place on this campus,” Alvarado said. “When I came for Bulldogs Days, upperclassmen told me when they came to visit, La Casa wasn’t even on the campus map. We want La Casa to be a part of campus life, and he was key in setting things in motion and helping us see that it was possible.”
In leaving, Chavolla had students foremost in his mind. He said he wanted to announce his resignation as soon as possible so students could become involved in the search for his replacement.
Alvarado said finding a replacement will be very hard to do.
“Dean Chavolla said he wants us to be involved in the process of finding a new dean, but I don’t think I could describe Dean Chavolla well enough to get that, because that is what I want,” Alvarado said.
Assistant Dean Edgar Letriz, who came to Yale at the same time as Chavolla, said he will be sorely missed. Chavolla and Letriz worked together on the consolidation of the cultural houses.
“I’ll certainly miss him as a colleague because we came in together,” Letriz said. “We understood each other so well, and we both communicated and worked with each other so often that the prospect of such a significant change [the consolidation of the Latino Cultural Center] seemed like an effortless task, because I knew it was he I was working with.”