Arévalo reflects on his beginnings, legacy

By Nicole Ruse, Copy Editor


The apple orchards are plentiful during the cold fall months when they are perfect for picking. Migrant workers from all over the states gather in the fields to pick the apples, some with their children at their feet helping them.

To President Rodolfo Arévalo, being in the fields at the age of seven with his migrant parents was like a playground.

“I probably got in the way most of the time,” Arévalo said, laughing.

Originally from Edinburg, Texas, his parents along with his six older siblings picked crops in a variety of states including Washington.

Dr. Arévalo said that, even though his family traveled a lot, his parents always encouraged him and his siblings to stay in school.

“They always managed to make sure we got enrolled in school wherever we were,” said Arévalo. “For the most part, everybody ended up graduating from high school. … I wouldn’t say [my parents] pushed [college], but they encouraged it.”

While Dr. Arévalo was finishing up high school and determining what path he wanted to take, he heard mostly discouragement from advisers, even though he was taking college courses his senior year.

He remembers the day he sought advice from his high school counselor about the steps he would need to take to go to college.

“She said, ‘Well, you don’t have to worry about that. You’re not college material. You probably could start looking at what kind of job you want to do after you graduate,’” said Arévalo.

Dr. Arévalo went on to obtain  his bachelor’s at the University of Texas-Pan American in his hometown as a first-generation student. He attended the University of Michigan to earn his master’s and doctorate in 1973. According to Arévalo, he was the first Mexican American to graduate from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D. in education philosophy.

According to Dahir “D.J.” Jigre, ASEWU president, Dr. Arévalo is like Superman.

“Superman is known as the man of steel. To the same aspect, I’d like to relate that to Dr. [Arévalo]. He’s a man of steel,” said Jigre. “Nothing can slow him down. Anything he puts his mind to, he gets it done. That’s exactly who he is to me. He’s a Superman. He’s a hero to all of us.”

Arévalo worked as a provost at the University of Texas and in the California state university system for 18 years before becoming president at EWU. According to Arévalo, he was the first Hispanic administrator the University of Texas ever hired.

Being first at something is not new for Dr. Arévalo. However, that was not always the case.

“I tell students that when I started school I was an immediate failure because when I first went to school, … I didn’t speak any English, so I flunked the first grade. I was a little older than the kids to begin with, so … that made me even older,” said Arévalo.

Even though Dr. Arévalo is titled the first Hispanic president of any four-year public college university in Washington state, he feels that it is unimportant to what really matters: the students.

According to Arévalo, individuals with different cultural backgrounds help institutions and Eastern is going to continue to change with ethnic composition increasing.

“Whether Eastern has another Hispanic president or not isn’t going to make a difference,” said Arévalo. “The population is just out there, and Eastern has become a stronger magnet than the other five universities of students of different cultural backgrounds. I think it’s destined to change in that direction.”

Jigre believes that when the board of trustees appointed Dr. Arévalo as president of EWU, they were not looking at the fact that he was a minority. He said that he thinks they were looking at who would bring Eastern to its  next stage.

“If they saw the qualities that we see now, then honestly our board of trustees made the right choice,” said Jigre. “I think that his education and his ideas that he contributed to the institution and being part of Eastern really made those things happen. … It’s not about how diverse we are, but it’s about the creativity, the ideas that our students bring to this institution itself that makes Eastern better.”

Dr. Arévalo encourages all students to go above and beyond what they once believed they were unable to obtain.

“Achieve more than what you had. … Sometimes, it’s how you present the knowledge that you have or the experience that you have that makes you different,” said Arévalo.

Jigre hopes to be a president of a university one day. Eastern, he said, would be his very first pick if he had to choose because of how inspired he was by Dr. Arévalo and his time here.

“I do want to really follow in his footsteps and be that type of role model to show other students that, you know what, you can do anything. As long as you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. That’s honestly what he represents. He does represent that model to the point where it is true,” said Jigre. “Start something big.”