New executive director of inclusion and belonging talks unity, social justice

Alejandro Covarrubias is a third-generation Mexican American whose experiences have changed his outlook on his own life, and the lives of others. From acknowledging racism in the world and seeing homelessness up close, Covarrubias has taken on his new role as Cal Poly Pomona’s executive director of student inclusion and belonging with his past experiences guiding him in his goal of changing students’ perspective of the world.

This position is new to the university and the duties that came with it have changed rapidly from when Covarrubias first applied in February to today. Instead of engaging with students and groups on campus, he now participates in virtual events.

One of Covarrubias’ first such engagements at CPP came during ASI’s Student Community Planning on Racial Justice event. During the student-centric town hall, Covarrubias followed the lead of ASI executive leaders in discussion with CPP students and chimed in through direct messages to facilitate.

“I don’t need to be the face of events,” Covarrubias said. “I want to empower students to have these conversations on their own.”

Covarrubias was always interested in multicultural and human rights education because of how he grew up. (courtesy of Covarrubias)

Covarrubias was raised in Oxnard, California. His mother works at Cal State Northridge in human resources while his father is a Superior Court judge for Ventura County who specializes in juvenile justice. From a young age, his family taught him to view the world from his own perspective and from the perspective of others.

“It was just a part of growing up,” Covarrubias said. He remembers his mom’s parents idolizing Cesar Chavez and what he stood for as a labor leader, community organizer and Latino American civil rights activist. He attests to this forming his identity and ideals.

“Growing up, my family would call me ‘Ale,’” Covarrubias said. “When I was in preschool, teachers started calling me Alex.” He explained his nickname was a part of his Latino identity that he lost until he entered graduate school at Loyola College in Maryland.

It was there that he began working under Sara Furr, former assistant director to the office of student life, that Covarrubias found the freedom of expression that he craved.

“I urged him to use the name that honored his truest self,” said Furr, “I think it makes all the difference, especially when doing social justice and equity work.”

Furr described Covarrubias as always reflective and open to feedback from her, which she said fuels his focus on personal development and engagement within his relationships.
This affirming experience solidified what he had learned from his volunteer work in Sacramento before grad school. He worked with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as security, case management and overall liaison for social service programs throughout the city.

This group turned an old junkyard into a park called Friendship Park, where the homeless could gather and eat breakfast since shelters turned them away during the hours of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I got to see how we have dehumanized these people,” Covarrubias said. “We stereotype them. It showed me the true inequalities that exist, like homophobia and racism.”

This experience was transformative for Covarrubias as it brought up questions he had about what his role and privilege was in addressing these issues.

He took these experiences to heart and applied these lessons to how he interacted with students during his time as an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership Studies at the University of San Francisco.

“I never aspired to be a faculty member,” Covarrubias said, yet it proved to be a satisfying job for him. “Students would tell me ‘I’ve never had a Latino professor before, and I’ve never seen anyone teach the way you teach.’”

Covarrubias is committed to addressing social justice issues by empowering students to tell their stories so he can learn more. Courtesy of Covarrubias)

Covarrubias plans to participate and reach out to marginalized communities at CPP through one on one conversations with students or through events. He also utilizes data and looks for patterns of social injustice and reports them to higher administration.

Covarrubias said that it becomes a matter of what policies the college needs to enact to have a greater sense of community on campus, even while virtual.

Since joining CPP in June, he has participated in the annual CPP Fest held virtually due to the pandemic. He contributed to discussions regarding first-generation students and the working class experience.

These discussions included the forced conformity of ideals or beliefs that the working class or
first generation college students have to do to fit in with the majority. He identifies with this marginalized group which he refers to as “class straddlers.”

“They’re stuck between two worlds,” Covarrubias said. “I want students to know it’s okay to not know how you fit in. Conformity isn’t necessary.”

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