Intentional listening is perhaps one of the greatest strengths Dr. Eddy Ruiz brings to the table. As San Jacinto College's newly named assistant vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, he's been busy making his rounds across the College's five campuses and various Zoom meetings, getting to know his new colleagues and gaining insight into the College's culture regarding DEI.
Hailing from California, Ruiz says that what initially drew him to the position was the opportunity to make an impact for students, staff, and the community.
"I knew that this role would allow me to be at an institution that has a high underrepresented student population," he said. "The demographics in Texas are transitioning, becoming more diverse, and the cultural climate is shifting to becoming more inclusive. It was also a way for me to get out of my comfort zone from implementing program-specific DEI to implementation within an instuition at the district level."
Ruiz adds that there can be positive and negative reactions to DEI on any level at any institution or corporation. However, it all breaks down to concern for others.
"DEI is really thinking about others — advocacy, mutual respect, understanding, belonging, and accountability," he said. "When you think about other people and how their prosperity advances society, it can create a positive atmosphere where people invest in each other."
Ruiz also says that the community will play a large role in what he wants to accomplish at the College.
"Creating a 'town and gown' partnership is a very important goal of mine, meaning that those relationships extend far beyond industry, administration, donors, employees, and students," he said. "We are a community college, so I want to know what the community wants. The only way we'll find out what our opportunity gaps are is to go out and talk to people, ask questions, and figure out strategic ways in which we can implement those needs so that it benefits all of our stakeholders. San Jac definitely has that drive and initiative to engage in that discourse, which is hard to find at most institutions. Our students are the community, and they go home to their families, and their families see them succeeding and accomplishing great things, so that's what will ultimately create more opportunities if we remain culturally responsive."
Finding common ground is what Ruiz says will help facilitate conversations about DEI among the entire College community. It also aids in building trust and rapport with students, staff, faculty, and administration.
"With the College having a high Hispanic/Latinx student population, being able to engage with them about the inequities that they've experienced and what I've experienced — that's common ground, and finding that is important," he said. "That allows you to have an environment where students feel welcomed and feel that they belong. This helps with their persistence in achieving their degree or certificate and transferring to a university to increase that higher education pipeline to graduate degrees. I'm just one person, but if I can create an opening with the help of my colleagues and the open hearts of the community, that's where transformation takes place. That's giving back."
Ruiz holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in higher education and organizational change from the University of California Los Angeles. He and his wife, Shila, reside in Houston with their sons, 13 and 6.