Believing in youth, letting them speak
Forest Grove is a long way from his native Puerto Rico, but for Pacific University professor Victor Rodriguez, it’s become home for a man doing what he loves — teaching.
“I think I found what I was meant to do,” Rodriguez said. “It makes me happy.
Rodriguez has been teaching at Pacific since 1995, and for the past two years, he has also been moonlighting at Forest Grove High School, teaching “Latinos: New Frontiers I & II,” courses designed to give students an opportunity to explore their identities and the role of Latino communities in our history.
In addition to his teaching, Rodriguez has also been the motivating force behind the Association of Latinx and Ally Students (ALAS) at Pacific University, which has been very welcoming to students and families of Latin American heritage. He advises and motivates ALAS, which has organized countless events, such as guest speakers, films, excursions to museums and restaurants, and social gatherings that add multicultural dimensions to campus life.
Rodriguez is a big believer in empowering and listening to student voices.
“Teaching is a two-way street,” Rodriguez said. “Students will respect you and your message a lot more if they understand that you’re also respecting them and what they have to say.”
As a teacher at the high school and college levels, Rodriguez appreciates the time he gets to spend with young people.
“Every time you’re in contact with young people, you learn something new,” Rodriguez remarked. “Their minds and thoughts are coming together, and you can see that, and they challenge you to a certain degree.”
It was a teacher in Puerto Rico who initially suggested Rodriguez become an educator, too.
Rodriguez later attended Brown University in Rhode Island, where he earned a graduate degree and doctorate, then taught at Texas A&M University before arriving at Pacific.
At the Forest Grove university, he’s ingratiated himself to the staff and students alike.
“Students refer to him as their ‘tío,’” fellow Pacific professor Lorely French said. While that word in Spanish literally means “uncle,” it is also a term of affection, French explained, “that holds much honor and respect of his support of our Latinx students.”
French added, “Students absolutely adore Victor Rodriguez in the classroom. He is lively, engaged, dedicated, knowledgeable, and passionate about his teaching.”
Rodriguez takes that same enthusiasm to his work with ALAS as well, helping to create a comforting environment for not only Latino students but students campus-wide.
Yet, while he and at times others help guide the group, Rodriguez said it’s really the students who are responsible for making the group what it is.
“The primary thing is to create community, which is created by the students themselves,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a family ambience … not created by the institution or a higher group, or me or someone in charge, but by them. The students decide, and they’re the ones who create the awareness of different values and different cultures.”
The professor said he’s also really enjoyed his work at the high school, teaching his class that provides students both high school and college credits.
“It’s part college readiness,” Rodriguez said, “but in a high level for their Spanish and their knowledge about their own cultures.”
Being in a high school has given Rodriguez a better understanding of where his students are coming from, too, he said.
“It’s important to see what the experience is like from all sides,” he said. “For example, now that I’ve been teaching at the high school, I don’t have to imagine what the teachers are doing — I know what they’re doing. If you’re there, you can see all things and areas. Counseling, helping people with disabilities — all of that is embedded in that environment, and you’ll be exposed to it all.”