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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Michael Dominguez, Augustine "Gus" Chavez Faculty Scholar at SDSU's Latinx Resource Center. Michael Dominguez, Augustine "Gus" Chavez Faculty Scholar at SDSU's Latinx Resource Center.

New Faculty Scholar Hits the Ground Running

The inaugural scholar at the Latinx Resource Center led the development of a mentoring program that helps new students navigate the university.
By Jeff Ristine

There was a time Michael Domínguez thought he would wind up coaching high school track and field, a passion he sometimes would jokingly identify as his college major.

A former Division I Colonial Athletic Conference champion in the two-mile steeplechase, Dominguez is now the inaugural Augustine “Gus” Chavez Faculty Scholar for San Diego State University’s Latinx Resource Center.

He still gets out for trail running most days despite a messed-up ankle. But professionally, Domínguez has turned to two keen interests – ethnic studies and youth education – that have come together in SDSU’s Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and his selection last fall as faculty scholar at the then-budding student center.

“I’m really approaching this to serve and honor the Latinx community at San Diego State but also for historically marginalized folks more broadly,” Domínguez said. “I’m honored to be in this position.”

An assistant professor, Domínguez is the driving force behind COMUNIDAD, a scholars program still under development. Modeled in part after the Henrietta Goodwin Scholars program serving SDSU’s Black students, COMUNIDAD seeks to support Latinx students and “feel like a part of this campus culturally (and) see themselves represented,” he said.

University systems designed in a white, middle-class culture can present something of a steeplechase themselves for students of color or from different life paradigms. Through COMUNIDAD, Domínguez is seeking to help them over the hurdles with seminars and support from peer mentors for new students, helping them “understand the cultural dynamics, the unwritten rules, expectations and norms that universities reflect.”

Serving mainly commuter students for now, COMUNIDAD will expand in the fall with a residential life component, along with a targeted scholars program. As the name implies, Domínguez wants COMUNIDAD to encompass the broader community and such historically significant touchstones as Chicano Park and Balboa Park’s El Centro Cultural de la Raza.

Instead of track, Domínguez wound up starting his teaching career at a middle school in North Las Vegas, Nevada, teaching English (his real major) and English as a second language at a school that “was almost 100% Mexicano.” Later came a doctorate at the University of Colorado Boulder in ethnic studies and education, and a faculty position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He came to SDSU in 2017, attracted by “a really rich and diverse community here” and the city’s Latinx history. (Domínguez personally identifies as Chicano.)

His new appointment is one of several new faculty scholar positions at SDSU linked to cultural centers; the others are at the Pride Center, the Native Resource Center and the Women’s Resource Center. The Latinx Resource Center scholar is named for the late co-founder of what is now the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at SDSU; Chavez also was director of the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs and Ethnic Affairs.

The Latinx Resource Center is preparing to celebrate its first anniversary in April. It launched in February 2020 almost immediately before the coronavirus pandemic upended normal activity, pushing all of its services into virtual space.

“We want our students to succeed academically as well as thrive socially and mentally,” said Yesenia Sanchez, director of the center, explaining the importance of the center and its contributions to retention and graduation rates in providing tools to succeed.

“We’re really looking at a holistic support to students throughout our programming and services and our COMUNIDAD program especially brings all of those elements together.”

Sanchez, who participated in Domínguez's selection as Chavez Scholar, said his rich experience in curriculum development stood out, as well as a deep understanding of the value of peer and faculty mentorship, and a commitment to strengthening connections between SDSU and the community.

He is working with the College of Education on developing a certificate program in K-12 ethnic studies, a discipline of growing importance in California public schools and to the state Legislature. “It’s important to recognize and honor that for the unique and the important subject that it is,” he said, adding that the project is expected to lead to one or more new courses in teaching.

It was at his teaching job in middle school that Domínguez grew to love “the process of seeing youth learn and grow” and grasp the significance of education – and the cultural challenges – from the other side.

He’s director of an annual (until last year) high school running camp held in West Virginia. “I love working with the kids,” he said.

In the pre-pandemic period he also worked with a project called the Prison Yoga Project, visiting the East Mesa Youth Detention Facility to support the emotional health of incarcerated young men. “Trauma lives both in our bodies and our minds,” he said, “and athletics and exercise can be a way to attend to that.”