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Meet Daisy Gonzales, the Latina Deputy Chancellor Who’s Changing the Face of Leaders in Education

Daisy Gonzales BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of UnidosUS.

Representation matters — in the boardroom, the classroom, on screen, and everywhere in between. 

When it comes to education administration and the leaders guiding students of all ages across this country, representation in education has never been more important, which is why Daisy Gonzales’ position as the deputy chancellor of the California Community Colleges is so impressive. It’s also why this Latina trailblazer has the potential to impact other Latinas and minority students for generations to come.

No pressure.

Gonzales doesn’t seem to be the type particularly intimidated by a challenge. After all, her childhood in foster care was challenging, to say the least. But she always saw school as a safe space, a source of consistency, and a haven. 

Growing up in the foster care system in San Fernando Valley, Gonzales’ home life was far from stable. She bounced between group homes and childcare facilities, which is why she dove into her schoolwork and embraced her studies to avoid the unreliable and sometimes abusive home setting. “I always knew that school was safer than any other place could be because my home was not,” she told the Fresno Bee. Her deep respect for school and her passion for education grew throughout her educational journey and career. And her current leadership role is vital for students in California and beyond.

At a time when enrollment in community colleges is plummeting, and when minority students, in particular, are struggling in terms of higher education and equitable academic opportunities, a leader and a role model like Daisy Gonzales has never been needed more.

Latino Enrollment in Higher Education is Declining

Recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse shows that Hispanic enrollment in higher education overall decreased by 5.4 percentage points last fall, primarily due to the impact of the pandemic. But for community colleges specifically — where over 52 percent of Hispanic higher-education students matriculate — enrollment fell nearly 17 percent among Latinos and 6.2 percentage points for Latinas.

Furthermore, diversity is not only a growing problem within the student body in higher education; Latinos are also significantly underrepresented professionally in the education sector. While we know that diversity among teachers may be increasing, we see that the gap between the percentage of Latinx teachers and students is more prominent than for any other racial or ethnic group, according to research from the Learning Policy Institute. 

Bottom line: community college enrollment among Latinx students is down. There is a serious need for Latino leaders in the education arena to inspire, empower, and lead minority students looking for a role model who looks like them. Students need leaders with a shared experience and a relatable vision, and Daisy Gonzales is just the leader who is up to the task. And not only is her upbringing in the foster care system not holding her back, but it’s lifting her up.

Paving the Way for Future Latina Leaders in Education

Daisy Gonzales’ path to success was far from smooth sailing. In fact, it was fairly rocky, but she’s hoping that her story will strike a chord with the students in the largest system of higher education, many of whom are also part of a minority population.

Since the age of two, Gonzales was in the foster care system in California, bouncing between group homes, childcare centers, and relatives’ homes. She was reunified with her parents several times, but it was a toxic home environment that did not serve her. At 15 years old, she decided that she no longer wanted to be reunified with any family members. “My case was no fairytale. I did not live with any other families but always in group settings,” she said.

At 17 years old, Daisy was told she’d be better off emancipated, but this was ill-advised, and she ended up losing all of her benefits and was considered an independent adult, with nowhere to go. Like we said, her path was far from easy.

But education, a safe school environment, and reliable, motivating, and caring teachers helped her get through the tough times. In fact, her high school chemistry teacher, Patricia Barker, became her family, and they had a strong relationship based on mutual respect. They remained close over the years, and Gonzales was even the maid of honor at Barker’s wedding. 

After graduating high school, Gonzales enrolled in Mills College in Oakland, California. She was the first female in her biological family to attend college, and as a first-generation college student, she was very aware of the opportunity in front of her. She didn’t take a moment of that time for granted – she received several scholarships during her academic career and worked a few different jobs to make ends meet during college. 

That hard work and drive certainly paid off.

The First (but Not the Last) Latina Woman of Color to Step in as Chancellor 

Today, Daisy Gonzales serves as a leader for California’s 116 community colleges. She is currently the Deputy Chancellor. Last year, she served as the acting chancellor while Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley took a sabbatical to serve as a higher education adviser in the Biden administration. She is the first woman of color and the first Latina to step into the chancellor position. 

Her work as Deputy Chancellor is focused on leading the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for the colleges while working towards hiring a more diverse faculty and promoting inclusion in the student body. 

Gonzales is responsible for coordinating Educational Services and Support divisions, Student, Workforce, and Economic Development, the Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative (IEPI), and Digital Innovation and Infrastructure (DII). 

She’s also on a mission to improve student transfer rates among Black and Latino students and arm students with the necessary job skills to find good-paying careers. A sense of deep purpose drives all lofty goals.

And she wears her upbringing and her foster care identity as a “badge of honor.” Gonzales is acutely aware that sharing her story allows other foster care students to relate to her and begin to see a space for themselves in the school system and beyond.

“I know it’s still a stigma … but it is an incredible story,” Gonzales told Ed Source. “Only in this country can you go from foster care to leading the largest system of public higher education in one lifetime.”

Despite all of the challenges facing the education sector and higher education today – plummeting enrollment, lack of equity for minority students, the need for more diverse faculty, etc. — Gonzales is optimistic about the future and her role. Perhaps it’s because of her many years of obstacles and challenging times, but she is ready to break down barriers. 

“That optimism comes with the journey of your lived experience,” she said in a piece for Ed Source. “I survived many different systems that were not built to help me succeed, from foster care to being an English-language learner to being a first-generation college student. This is not my first time being the first in a role.” 

Daisy Gonzales is the role model that the higher education system (and really any institution) needs now, more than ever. There’s no question she’s qualified, ambitious, and an inspiration to so many. 

Her monumental role will undoubtedly empower other minority students and future leaders. 

“Students have and always will be Dr. Daisy Gonzales’ north star,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. “She is a tireless advocate for improving student outcomes and closing racial inequities that persist in higher education. She is a student-centered leader that can ensure more California students have the opportunity to go to college and succeed regardless of their race/ethnicity, income status, or zip code.”

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