Colegio Cesar Chavez (Spanish for "Cesar Chavez College") was a U.S. college-without-walls program in Mount Angel, Oregon. The college was named after Mexican American civil rights activist César Chávez. Colegio was established in 1973 and closed its doors in 1983.
Colegio was the first accredited, independent four-year Chicano college in the United States. In 1975 it was granted candidacy status from the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. In 1977, Colegio granted degrees to twenty-two graduates, a number exceeding the combined number of Chicanos who graduated that same year from University of Oregon and Oregon State University.
In his book Colegio Cesar Chavez, 1973-1983: A Chicano Struggle for Educational Self-Determination, to date the only full-length book about Colegio, author Carlos Maldonado writes that the college was doomed to failure. Maldonado claims that Colegio's staff was small and relatively inexperienced and therefore unprepared for the challenges of starting a new college. Eventually the staff succumbed to infighting. Maldonado also claims that it was difficult to foster an on-campus sense of community among staff and students because Colegio was a college-without-walls program. The author notes that Colegio was founded during a time of downturn in activism in the Chicano Movement. Colegio was founded during a period of growing political conservatism marked by less federal support for cultural programs. Colegio was founded in a small rural town whose population largely disliked Colegio and was relatively prejudiced against Mexican Americans. Lastly, Colegio was named in honor of a man many local farm owners found controversial. Maldonado claims that Colegio was often referred to as "the longest running death in history", and that study of Colegio Cesar Chavez will "help promoters of new ethnic institutions to raise questions of feasibility, anticipate problems, and provide direction in the establishment of new and more sophisticated institutions.
On its website the Oregon Historical Society writes, "Structured as a 'college-without-walls,' more than 100 students took classes in Chicano Studies, early childhood development, and adult education. Significant financial and administrative problems caused Colegio to close in 1983. Its history represents the success of a grassroots movement."
Colegio Cesar Chavez evolved from various other collegial institutions that had existed in Mount Angel, Oregon for nearly a century. In 1888, the Catholic Order of the Benedictine Sisters founded Mt. Angel Academy. The Academy was originally a female charter academy but later evolved into a normal school in 1897 to train women for careers in education. In 1947, Mt. Angel Normal School was renamed Mt. Angel Women's College and, with accreditation from the Northwest Accrediting Association, it granted a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education. In 1957, Mt. Angel Women's College became coeducational and was renamed Mt. Angel College.
By 1966 Mt. Angel College was facing financial problems for which it received two federal loans which it used to expand the campus. Within the next seven year Mt. Angel College found itself burdened by a one million dollar debt and low student enrollment. In 1977, Ernesto Lopez became Dean of Students of Mt. Angel College and Sonny Montes became Director of Ethnic Affairs and minority recruiter. By 1972, Mt. Angel College had a student body of only 250, only 37 of whom were of Mexican American descent.
Citing the Mt. Angel College's financial instability and low enrollment, the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges withdrew the college's accreditation. In light of such bleak signs, most students and staff left the college. Sonny Montes, Ernesto Lopez, and four others decided to attempt to salvage the college by redirecting its focus. On December 12, 1973, Mt. Angel College was renamed Colegio Cesar Chavez. In 1975, Colegio was granted accreditation candidacy from the same association that had withdrawn Mt. Angel College's accreditation. Colegio aimed to create a four-year college completely under the control of a staff chiefly of Mexican American, or Chicano, descent. Colegio was also structured on an experimental educational model known as a "college without walls" program.
Previous to settling on the name "Colegio Cesar Chavez", staff had considered three other names for the college: "Colegio Che Guevara", "Colegio Ho Chi Minh", and "Colegio Virgen de Guadalupe". César Chávez's name was chosen because he was one of the key figures in the Chicano movement, often organizing boycotts and protests for farm workers in California and eventually throughout the entire Pacific Northwest. The majority of Mexican Americans in the Pacific Northwest had migrated to the region during the World War II era in search of work as farm laborers.
Colegio Cesar Chavez operated under the "El Colegio Sin Paredes" ("The College Without Walls") model. This model granted students the ability to actively engage with their community, to maintain control of their own education, and to combine their classroom studies with experience outside of the classroom.
The College Without Walls Program had been established by the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities. This format allowed for the inclusion of a wide range of age groups, encouraged the participation and collaboration of students, staff, and administrators in creating and implementing the curriculum. Alternative means of evaluation was also encouraged. In this program, instructors were redefined as facilitators in the learning process. Additionally, Colegio staff, administration, and students relations were structured in accordance to a framework that Colegio termed "La Familia," meaning "The Family". To that end, the "family" members were encouraged to participate in the decisions affecting the college. Such a framework inevitably required for students to be self-motivated and to initiate and pursue an independent course of education.
Colegio's core educational foundation consisted of work in four areas: Social Science (Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology); the Humanities (Literature, History, Arts, Philosophy, Language); Natural Sciences and Mathematics; oral and written bilingual Communications. Each student was required to complete fifteen credit hours in each area, totaling 60 credit hours. Credit transfers from parallel areas was allowed. Students could also receive credit for prior learning.
From its inception, the leadership of Colegio Cesar Chavez was in a constant state of flux. In its brief ten years, Colegio was served by four administrations. Each administration faced substantial institutional crises. In 1973, Ernesto Lopez, former Academic Dean and Acting President of Mt. Angel College, became Colegio's first President. Lopez retained this position for only one year. After the departure of Lopez, the position of administrative head was altered into a co-directorship. Sonny Montes was named Director of Administration. Jose Romero was named Director of Academics. The split into two co-directors was made in an attempt to relieve the overwhelming duties that Lopez had faced.
Sonny Montez did not possess an advanced degree, as had Lopez, and he had far less experience working in higher education than had Lopez. Montez' organizing abilities and many contacts within the Chicano Movement were compensations. It was during the joint Montez-Romero administration that Colegio Cesar Chavez received accreditation candidacy on June 18, 1975 from the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. Sonny Montez retired as Colegio administrator in October 1977, citing personal and economic concerns. He was extended an invitation to serve on Colegio's board, which he accepted.
Salvador Ramirez followed Sonny Montez, becoming Colegio's top administrator in 1977. Ramirez, who held a master's degree in history, had served Colegio as history teacher since mid-1976. His previous work experience included employment with University of Colorado at Boulder and Washington State University. During Ramirez' tenure, Colegio finalized its negotiations with HUD. Ramirez resigned from his position at Colegio in 1979.
The mistake the college made in its later years was to try to catch up with the Lewis and Clarks and the Linfields, and to show them that we were as good if not better. In the process of doing that, they forgot about the community and the non-traditional students. And having alienated the Chicano community and having lost the momentum of the movement, they became isolated.
Irma Flores Gonzales, previously a member of both Colegio's board and staff, became president of Colegio in 1979. Gonzales held a B.A. in education and a M.A. in psychology. It was during Gonzales' time as president that Colegio faced its greatest challenges: difficulty in developing and maintaining a financial base; preparing Colegio for accreditation by June 1981; and expanding college enrollment. During Gonzales' time as president, Colegio staff succumbed to infighting. By this point, many activitists within the Chicano Movement had become disillusioned with Colegio. Gonzales was Colegio's last president.
Colegio Cesar Chavez's main campus building was the two-story administrative building called Huelga Hall. ("Huelga" [pronounced welga] is Spanish for "strike".) When it was a part of Mount Angel College, Huelga Hall was known as Marmion Hall and was used as the campus dormitory for women. Huelga Hall was the hub of campus activity and was where most classes were held. In many regards, Huelga Hall was in disrepair. Due to the lack of an operable central heating system, students and staff were often forced to huddle near small room heaters in order to keep warm. In the basement of Huelga Hall was Lupe Library, which had been flooded. Many of the books were warped by the water. Toward the end of Colegio's existence, Huelga Hall was permeated by the odor of rotting books. The walls of Huelga Hall were covered with large Mexican-themed murals, some in the style of Diego Rivera, others being transcriptions of ancient Aztec artwork. In the main reception room there was a mural of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara near the fireplace. To the north of Huelga Hall stood two buildings that served as dormitories for Colegio students.
Colegio also owned two homes. Directly behind Huelga Hall was the Art Building. The Art Building was a two-story farm house in the Victorian style. It had been built in the mid-1900s by the Bernt family of Mt. Angel. When Mount Angel College took possession of the Bernt house, it was renamed Studio San Benito. Under Colegio's ownership, the house was referred to as the Art Building. The Art Building lay vacant and unused for most of Colegio's existence until when in 1980 it was Colegiotermsofresidency.jpg. Mr. Olivo was the grounds keeper and facilities maintenance manager of Colegio César Chávez. After Irmagonzaleslettertoarthur.jpg with Colegio president Imragonzaleslettertoarthur2.jpg, the Olivo family vacated the Art Building in 1982 shortly before Colegio's closure. Beside the Art House stood another two-story house that was referred to as the Pottery Building. Both the Pottery Building and the Art Building were demolished in the mid-1980s.
On the other side of Main Street, across from Huelga Hall, Colegio maintained Guadalupe Hall, a building named in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
After the closure of Colegio Cesar Chavez, the facilities and grounds were left unused and abandoned for several years. Eventually, a private benefactor purchased the former Colegio grounds and facilities and donated it back to its pre-Colegio owners, the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel.
Today, the former Colegio grounds and facilities are used as St. Joseph Shelter. Shortly after reclaiming ownership of the former Colegio building, the Benedictine Sisters had all but one Colegio-era mural painted over. The one remaining mural is titled "College Without Walls" and was created by Deniel Desiga. The mural depicts an arch entry overlooking a vast strawberry field. The arch has been interpreted as representing the college without walls program of Colegio, and the vast strawberry field in the background is likely a reference to the field workers and the fact that many Colegio teachers and students had either worked in the fields or were from families who had survived by means of field work. The mural is found on the wall near the entrance to the former Colegio building, just outside of the receptionist's office.
On Friday September 29, 2006, the Statesman Journal published the article "Short-lived college offers lessons" by Thelma Guerrero. The article incorporated a photograph, originally published on the Wikipedia article about Colegio Cesar Chavez, of a mural painted on a wall at St. Joseph Shelter in Mount Angel, Oregon. St. Joseph Shelter is currently headquartered in the former main campus building of Colegio Cesar Chavez, which was known as Huelga Hall.
All documents below are stored in Oregon State University's Multicultural Archives where they are made available to the public.
Colegio Cesar Chavez catalogue, 1978. Click to enlarge.
Flyer advertising Colegio's classes. Click to enlarge.
Below are candids of community activities in Colegio, circa early 1980s. Aztec-themed murals can be seen on the walls.