Two weeks ago, I realized I had been waking up wrong my entire life.
Walking into Patrick Velasquez’s brightly lit office on a warm Tuesday, I didn’t exactly expect to realize this about myself. Yet when I sat down — amidst black-framed band posters that hung displayed against sun-splattered walls — and talked to Velasquez, my eyes were opened.
For most people, myself included, waking up means a fight against the alarm on the phone that sits idly atop our desks. It means lifting eyelids burdened with late night paper-writing and furious test-cramming to struggle through another day.
For Velasquez, this is not the case. For him, the work that lies ahead keeps him waking up every morning and working throughout the day. Velasquez awakes every morning because he has a purpose, one that is stronger than any alarm setting. He wakes up every morning to fight.
Velasquez came from a small Chicano community in Nebraska. Both his grandparents and parents were meat-packers in the 1950s — a typical job for Mexican immigrants at the time. Neither of them had gone to college. In fact, barely anyone from the Chicano community had. At the time, the Chicano community as a whole was scarred by poverty and unemployment, filled with low-wage earners and not enough educated leaders. This sad state of affairs inspired Velasquez to pursue a career in education and counseling.
“I thought education was really allowing people to make the kinds of decisions that I struggled with, and to do whatever they wanted in their lives,” remarked Velasquez. “But also, I thought that through education, you could become a leader. And what I noticed in our Chicano community was that we didn’t have any lawyers, we didn’t have any doctors … and we had a lot of problems … I felt like we needed well-educated leadership to change that.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in education, Velasquez found himself drawn to the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services at UC San Diego, a program that offers tutoring and mentorship to UCSD students. In 1989, he was hired as a coordinator for OASIS’ Summer Bridge Program, a program that gives incoming freshmen five weeks in the summer before college to live on campus and adjust to college life. After receiving his doctorate in higher education policy and student development from Claremont University in 1995, he was promoted to director of OASIS the following year.
Serving over 3,000 students per year, OASIS has been the campus’ learning center for underprivileged students — students just like Velasquez once was. For the underrepresented, those who feel they don’t belong or the minority group students, OASIS has been the “knight in shining armor” for social justice that sits atop Center Hall, overlooking Library Walk. Not only does the program seek to help students academically, but it also tries to give them a home away from home.
For 21 years, Velasquez served as the head of OASIS. However, the end of Winter Quarter this year marked the end of his career. With his office packed away in cardboard boxes, Velasquez said goodbye on the Friday of Week 10. In a sense, though, he didn’t leave satisfied.
For both Velasquez and OASIS, the fight against UCSD’s administration and institution has been seemingly never-ending. With a figurative sword in hand, Velasquez has continually been pushing for more diversity reflected in UCSD’s faculty, the increase of student representation in major school decisions and recently even hinting at the idea of naming Sixth College after a Chicano person. As a whole, though, success hasn’t come easy, and each step forward has included a fight.
“We haven’t made a lot of progress,” he admitted. “There are people on the campus who tell me that the faculty was more diverse in the 1970s than it is now … Within recent years, what I have seen in the administration we have now is more of a tendency to try to silence people that work here when they criticize UCSD.”
As a part of the Chicano/Latino Concilio at UCSD, which was formed in 1991, Velasquez has helped produce many documents, institutional report cards and recommendations on the way the campus could be improved and made more equitable. The process hasn’t been unopposed.
“What I have seen in the last three or four years is people like me who are given negative performance evaluations and are threatened with termination if we don’t stop criticizing the university … That’s the way the administration seems to be operating now. So I don’t really see the commitment to diversity and equity,” he said.
This hasn’t been helped by the fact that Velasquez is now retiring. With his retirement has come concerns from many students and even Velasquez himself about the future of OASIS. The biggest concern is whether OASIS will maintain its current mission to emphasize social justice, diversity and the representation of people of color. Yet, fears have only worsened with the personality of the current administration. With a furrowed brow, Velasquez expressed his concern that he would be replaced with someone who would “water down” the mission that OASIS has upheld for so many students at UCSD. For him and for many others, this sense of inclusiveness that OASIS promotes must be carried on.
“I wish that more people understood the complexities that our students face if they come from the backgrounds of a lot of OASIS students,” he said earnestly.
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Because many OASIS students come from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds and are first generation college students, their parents are often unable to help them with schoolwork or in making important decisions like choosing a major. Adding to this are struggles with finances and funding their college education.
“I think there are some folks on campus who understand [these challenges], but I don’t think that is really at the highest levels of administration or amongst our faculty … You can’t change the students, it’s not right to expect the students to change. They shouldn’t always be the ones to adapt to a predominantly white institution. The institution needs to change,” he said.
Still, Velasquez can be sure that he has made a lasting impact on this campus. In the 1990s, Velasquez, along with the UCSD Chicano/Latino Concilio, was able to successfully push for the Chicano Legacy Mural that now graces the side of Peterson Hall. He also helped push for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion requirement that is now demanded of all students, and resource centers such as the Black Resource Center. Although such accomplishments have not become the catalyst for change that Velasquez and several others had hoped they would have become, there is still the hope that “continuing the good fight” will one day make UCSD a more inclusive place.
“One thing’s for sure – the roadmap of how to get there is out there. If they read the scholarship on how to create a diverse, equitable institution the answers are there. And we know how to get there. It’s just you have to have the will and the capacity.”
Velasquez has now stepped down from his position, said goodbye to the students and the community that he has created homes for and parted from his little office on the third floor. But as long as he continues waking up, Velasquez will continue fighting.
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