For Chris Arguedas, interim head of the ICC, personal experience informs passion for student advocacy

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Chris Arguedas standing outside of the Intercultural Community Center on Campus Road on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Los Angeles. Amirah Al-Sagr/The Occidental

Chris Arguedas assumed the title of interim head of the Intercultural Community Center (ICC) in summer 2019, transitioning from his former position as a case manager in the Occidental Dean of Students Office. The ICC is located in a house right off of main campus at at 1501 Campus Rd., across the street from the Hameetman Science Center. Arguedas said that the center has been evolving to incorporate better resources for marginalized students.

Before coming to Occidental, Arguedas had a four-year tenure at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) as a Student Leadership Coordinator and then as a Resident Director, where he oversaw themed living communities. He then transitioned to the Occidental Dean of Students Office in 2018. He said his roles at both UCSB and Occidental centered around social justice and student advocacy. Arguedas assumed the title of interim director of the ICC in 2019.

Arguedas said his own journey has shaped how he works toward cultivating the traits of awareness and social advocacy that both he and Occidental value. According to Arguedas, his interest in social justice, inspired by his own experience, has led him to focus on trying to make safe spaces for students.

“Growing up as a queer man of color in the South and moving through my own college experience without seeing other people like me around was really difficult,” Arguedas said. “And when I committed myself to working in higher education, I wanted to make sure that students were able to see themselves represented in the field. I also wanted to commit myself to reminding students that they are capable and that they are worthy of being here.”

Arguedas said he has made an effort to apply his goals to the current projects of the ICC, striving to make the center accessible to the community. He has opened up the space for student groups to meet and works actively to expand the amount of student resources.

“My goal has been to create a home away from home for underrepresented students at Occidental College,” Arguedas said. “I think that this space [the ICC] fundamentally is intended to cultivate a sense of belonging for students while they’re here so that, no matter where you’re coming from, you connect with something or someone that is familiar to you or helps you learn more about yourself.”

One of Arguedas’s employees, Jazz Henry (first year), said that during his time at Occidental, Arguedas has made himself an active member of the student community and has built positive and impactful relationships with students. Henry said that his relationship with Arguedas is one of deep mutual respect, and that Arguedas is personable and a great authority figure.

Micol Garinkol ’19, ICC office supervisor and assistant for inclusive services, said she and Arguedas hold each other to high standards because of the high expectations  they both have for the ICC. Garinkol said seeing Arguedas spearhead initiatives for change has been an invaluable experience.

“This is my first professional job since graduating from Occidental this past May. [Arguedas] is going to be the model to me for the rest of my professional life as to how someone can supervise an office and a full staff,” Garinkol said. “[Arguedas] leads with a warm and intellectual ethos. Going forward, I hope to bring that same energy into any workspace I am in.”

Arguedas said he will always need to work to stay informed in order to support students.

“I want to be a lifelong learner. I also love training,” Arguedas said. “One of the things I am working on improving is to make sure that I’m doing my part to be informed, to cultivate greater awareness, so that when I am in front of the room talking about social justice that I can do so with care and intention. I think the more we know, the less we know, but I do fundamentally believe in awareness.”

Chris Arguedas standing outside of the Intercultural Community Center on Campus Road on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Los Angeles. Amirah Al-Sagr/The Occidental

Arguedas said his own coming-out process and the struggle to discover his self-worth were some of the biggest obstacles he has overcome in life.

“When I was growing up and I knew that I was different, it impacted how I felt about myself and my worthiness,” Arguedas said. “It takes a lot of work to unlearn those stories that we’re told about ourselves, and the things that actually make us great that sometimes people make us feel bad about or feel like we’re lesser than. That is something I am deeply committed to and something that I want to help other students understand too. That there are so many parts of ourselves that we, in time, can be proud of.”

Arguedas said his future goals include developing a more permanent role with the ICC and perhaps pursuing a doctoral degree.

“I would love to become the permanent director,” Arguedas said. “That’s an opportunity for me, and I want to continue my education eventually and pursue a doctorate. But overall, I want to continue my work as a student advocate in the student support system wherever I go, and if I can do that through the lens of social justice, then I’ve succeeded.”