This story was last updated on August 26, 2014.
A series of leadership changes shook up the halls of two of Yale’s cultural houses this summer.
Two cultural house deans — Rosalinda Garcia, director of La Casa, and Theodore Van Alst, director of the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) — stepped down from their posts and departed from the University in June and July.
Garcia, who came to Yale in January 2002, accepted the position of assistant vice president of student life at Our Lady of the Lake University, a private Catholic university in San Antonio, Texas. Van Alst, who served as NACC director for four years, accepted a position at the University of Montana as Senior Assistant Professor of Native American Studies with a joint appointment in the College of Forestry and Conservation.
No permanent replacement has been found for either cultural center.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway has named Amanda Hernandez MED ’16 and Christopher Cutter, a clinician researcher at the School of Medicine, as interim directors for La Casa and the NACC, respectively.
Garcia, who will visit Yale in the fall to say a proper farewell, said in an email to students that she would convene a meeting of the broader Yale Latino community to discuss the transition period for La Casa, which is also known as the Latino Cultural Center. She also emphasized her continuing commitment to Yale and her desire to remain in touch with the La Casa community.
“As a dean, I found what everyone is looking for — a life filled with purpose and beautifully kind, talented people,” she wrote. “I’m incredibly thankful for having had the opportunity to share this time at Yale with you. It has been a privilege serving as one of your deans.”
While at Yale, Garcia oversaw a wide swath of diversity initiatives on campus, including the Cultural Connections pre-orientation program and the Science, Technology and Research Scholars (STARS) program for minority students interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In an email to the boards of La Casa and the NACC, Holloway credited Garcia with helping significantly grow Yale’s Latino community over the past decade.
Assistant Dean of Yale College and Asian American Cultural Center Director Saveena Dhall said in an email that Garcia shaped La Casa into an important space for Latinos and the larger Yale and New Haven communities.
Students who worked closely with Garcia called her a capable and caring leader. Jose Gutierrez NUR ’16, who worked as a La Casa graduate assistant during the 2013-’14 academic year, said Garcia thoughtfully listened to the ideas and concerns of the Latino community.
Alfonso Toro ’15, head peer liaison of La Casa, said he first met Garcia as a prefrosh during Bulldog Days. She reached out to him, described the Latino community at Yale and its available resources and ultimately was one of the main reasons he chose to attend Yale, he said.
Throughout his first three years, Toro said Garcia became a parental figure to him.
“Seeing her would make me feel at home,” he said. “Her door was always open.”
Toro said he is sad to see Garcia depart, but is inspired by her decision to serve Our Lady of the Lake University, whose student body is predominantly Hispanic.
Van Alst did not respond to requests for comment, but community members praised his leadership. Under him, the Native American community at Yale tripled in size, and the NACC received its own physical house last year.
Cutter, the interim NACC director, praised Van Alst for being the driving force behind securing a house for the NACC, adding that he is “eternally grateful” for Van Alst’s commitment to the space. Dalton Carr ’15, who has served on house staff for three years, said Van Alst was a huge advocate for Native American students who wanted to have their own center.
“He pushed really hard for us. He knew students had wanted a house for years,” Carr said. “It just always seemed like we had support.”
According to Holloway and Yale College Director of Strategic Communications Paul McKinley DRA ’96, the Yale College Dean’s Office will form committees to conduct nationwide searches for permanent directors for both cultural houses.
Hernandez will serve as La Casa Director through the academic year and until a permanent director is found, while Cutter will remain in the position throughout the academic year.
Hernandez, who has been a La Casa graduate assistant for four years, said her time at the cultural house has been one of the hallmarks of her Yale experience. Similarly, Cutter said he has never experienced a university cultural community as robust as Yale’s NACC. His focus for the upcoming year, he said, is transparency — ensuring that students and Native American community members are aware of his planned actions and programming for the house.
La Casa was founded at Yale in 1974, and the NACC arrived on campus in 1993.