This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters.
Roberto Montoya remembers the culture shock from when he first stepped onto a Colorado college campus.
Montoya went from an Albuquerque high school with a primarily Latino population to Colorado Mesa University, which was almost entirely white. The initial surprise he felt seeing so few students and professors who looked like him eventually made him want to create a space for other students of color.
A year ago, Montoya’s journey to push for more diverse campuses brought him to work for the state — as the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s first-ever chief educational equity officer.
In an interview with Chalkbeat, Montoya said he wants to elevate and support college and university work helping students of color, as well as those that are first generation and low income. He also wants to stimulate the conversation about what those students need to be successful.
“There are so many folks who care deeply about and understand — not just recognize — the centuries of inequities and are committed to trying to undo them,” he said. “Yet they feel like they don’t necessarily always have what they need in order to do that.”
Stepping in to fix what wasn’t working
In 2021, Colorado lawmakers included in the $34.1 billion state budget funding for an equity officer. The higher education department hired Montoya in August that year from Race Forward, a national organization seeking to advance racial justice.
Montoya previously worked as a college instructor, researcher, and adviser to K-12 schools in educational equity. He started his career at Colorado Mesa University as a diversity recruiter after serving as the school’s first Latino student body president.
When he began as the state’s equity officer, the numbers showed large gaps separating white students and students of color. Clearly, the state had to step up its work evening out opportunities.
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