Five Minutes with Oscar Felix, PhD

Meet CSU’s Associate Vice President for Diversity. 

Oscar Felix spent the first part of his career encouraging potential first-generation college students to aim for college. Now, he’s committed to ensuring that once they come, diverse students at CSU are welcome, valued and affirmed.

What is privilege?

Let me [explain] first through the lens of a privilege that I do have, and then one I don’t have. As a man, I do hold a privilege in this city. [As a younger man], it was completely taken for granted until I heard women who talked about not feeling safe at night.

After the election last November, I no longer felt safe in Fort Collins. I no longer felt safe in the city that I had always felt safe in. So as a male, I feel safe. As a Latino, I no longer felt safe. Those things together really slapped me in the face about what privilege looks like and what privilege doesn’t look like.

My definition: Privilege is not having to constantly spend energy making sense of what others take for granted.

How do you know you have it?

Go to places where you don’t have that privilege any more. So, if you hold a certain identity, go to a place where you’re not the majority… and connect with that energy. Then think, “What if I lived with that all day long? All the time?”

How can people be good allies to people with marginalized identities?

That’s a great question because there’s a way that people who want to be allies can cause more harm. You have to do it with motives that are [humble]. Don’t do it to try to be a hero or to try to be draw attention. [Don’t expect them] to reassure you, or make them work harder to create an opportunity for you. Just say, “How can I help, and if I can’t help, how can I be an ally?”

Why is it important to have a diverse CSU student population?

We need the best minds of our communities regardless of background, regardless of income, regardless of identity. If you have the mind and the willingness, we certainly need to provide the access so you can help us move forward. That’s a fundamental tenet of our land-grant mission—to nurture the talent of the people of Colorado.

That’s a high-minded notion, but the other argument we make is more of an economic one. We want folks to be able to earn high wages that are sustainable. A four-year degree is still the gold standard for that.

Long-term goal for the office of diversity?

In order for us to do our best for the state of Colorado [we need to make CSU] the best place for students to be, to thrive, to do their work. And given the future demographics of the state, we’ll only get more diverse. So how do we start being more intentional about making that kind of place?

Right. The ethnic majority and minority are going to criss-cross.

Right. Twenty to thirty years from now, our high school population will be more diverse, specifically Latino and Latina students who will come from families that have lesser incomes than the average right now. So, the question is, how do we build for the future? It starts now. 

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