Abenicio David Rael
Higher Education Administrator University of Colorado Denver
Bachelor of Arts - Psychology Master of Arts - Clinical Mental Health and School Counseling Doctorate Degree - Higher Education Leadership for Education Equity (in progress)
In 2017 I was appointed to the Denver Latino Commission by Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock. In 2019 I was elected as Co-Chair of the commission which is a two-year seat. My term as Co-Chair will end in December, 2020. I have not been involved with any political campaigns nor have I donated money to any campaign or other political organization.
In 2017 I was appointed to the Denver Latino Commission by Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock. Currently, I have the privilege of leading the Denver Latino Commission (DLC) as the Chairperson appointed by Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock. The DLC is tasked with identifying resources to address the needs of Latino communities, as well as advising the Mayor on policy and issues that affect the Latino community. This year our focus was on social justice issues, such as addressing anti-blackness in Latino communities, cultural competency and empowerment, and education equity. In 2018, I served as Secretary of the Board for the Colorado Coalition for the Educational Advancement of Latinos (CoCEAL). CoCEAL is a coalition of post-secondary and professional educators devoted to the educational success of the state’s Latino population. I currently serve as Chair of Partnerships and Innovations for the Coalition. Pre Covid-19 I volunteered at Dennison Elementary School where my children attend. I volunteered in a program called Watch Dog Dad, which is a program that allows fathers to assist with safety and security of the school.
As the newly elected Chairperson of the Commission, it was my responsibility to recruit new commissioners. During interviews I was able to identify a theme of a lack of visibility. Many had never heard of the commission. At the beginning of 2020, we met our goal of recruiting 6 brand-new commissioners. However due to my findings of the DLC being largely unknown in the City, I set a goal of making the DLC visible through many efforts and initiatives. When the pandemic struck, the Mayor shut down all commission meetings from March through June. Commissioners were confused as to how we would accomplish our goals and looked to the chairs for guidance. The change from in-person to remote meetings was detrimental and hindered our ability to accomplish our goals but our work became more important than ever so we had to keep moving forward. In July I convened the commission and guided us in writing the Black Lives Matter statement for the DLC and the mayor. We compiled a list of community resources to provide aide during the time of COVID. We secured funding to provide grants for local artists who are doing work for the community yet found themselves without adequate resources due to Covid-19, and we developed a DLC webinar series that launched October 13, 2020. Although we are not able to meet in person, we were able to adjust to the changes and accomplish my goal of increasing visibility across the City. From 2018 through 2019, I worked closely with the former Chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver and other senior leadership to support their goal of attaining the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation. I was promoted to lead a university-wide initiative to identify evidence that would determine if we met the enrollment criteria required for designation. As a leader on that task force, I oversaw all communication to and from the U.S. Department of Education. Additionally, I canvased climate and culture at the University of Colorado Denver to gauge effectiveness and how well underrepresented students are being served. In conjunction with Institutional Review, I developed a climate survey to gain a better understanding of the challenges of students. As a change-agent, my focus has always been on addressing educational inequities, as well as establishing a welcoming campus climate by foregrounding initiatives that create an equitable and inclusive environment that promotes the success of all students. My proudest accomplishment is founding and leading the LatinX Undergraduate Leadership Advancement (LULA) program at the University of Colorado Denver. This program began as a passion project for me in 2018, as I had the idea of engaging students in community leadership at an earlier phase of their educational career. I believed it would be beneficial to them, as well as the community at large. I began by formulating a nationwide survey that was sent to a cross-section of industries to gain an understanding of what hiring authorities seek when hiring a student after college graduation. The responses were analyzed and I used them to create an eleven-month curriculum for the LULA program. In 2017, the Denver Latino Commission conducted a needs assessment for the community. Under the education section, respondents revealed that “there are no programs to help motivated students thrive.” After canvasing CU Denver’s programs for marginalized students, I realized opportunities were limited. The LULA program has been designed to address educational inequities by supporting the leadership development, community engagement, and personal growth of undergraduate students of color. The program aims to assist in closing the attainment gap by motivating students to persevere toward earning their degrees, all while empowering them to serve their communities. The LULA program is intentional about program facilitation in the fact that it utilizes community leaders that reflect the students the program serves.
Given the State of Colorado’s commitment to equity and inclusion, a redistricting commissioner must be a leader with the capacity to connect with a variety of constituencies to advocate for marginalized communities. Because of my work with the DLC and CU Denver, I believe that I can be this type of leader. The commission will be tasked with ensuring that the next decade of maps in Colorado reflect the diversity of the State and are fair. I have experience advocating for marginalized communities and building consensus on the DLC. I can bring this experience and my ability to problem solve under pressure to the commission.
As a highly inclusive leader, I have an open mindset, and a desire to understand how others view and experience the world. I’m curious and I believe that with curiosity comes learning and new ideas, and in an environment that is changing rapidly, if you’re not curious, you’re not learning. I accept my limitations and understand the views of others can help complete the picture. As an inclusive leader I am also confident and effective in my cross-cultural interactions. I believe I can empower individuals as well as create and leverage the thinking of diverse groups. At its core, collaboration is about individuals working together, building on each other’s diverse ideas to produce something new or solve a complex problem. It is important to approach such situations with grace and readiness to engage in conversation.
I am collaborative, values-driven, inclusive, student-centered, and accomplishment-oriented. I am passion-driven, and I also rely on data and input. I appreciate the importance of bringing a broad range of perspectives into conversation and allowing each perspective to be considered. In challenging times like right now, we have to be ready to work together to emerge from this pandemic as an even stronger community. I am organized, detail-oriented, and strategic in mindset. I weigh all relevant factors, data and sources when making decisions, rather than on impulse. I consider myself a transformative leader because I always encourage my team to set goals that are in direct alignment with the institution’s goals. I measure the success of these goals by meeting on a quarterly basis to review the institution’s objectives and reflection on our progress as a team. We then adjust as are necessary. From my experience as a professional in the field of DEI, I am skilled at engaging multiple perspectives, identifying, and calling out bias. Doing this with grace and open mindedness is essential to building consensus and working towards a better community. I will bring this experience to the commission as we work together to create equitable maps. People show up with their own experiences that create bias. To recognize and point out bias is what starts the conversation. If I encountered colleagues who are still unaware of the importance of DEI, the first step I would take would be to present them with facts. There is so much research available touting the many benefits institutions reap when they have a commitment to DEI. I would gently but firmly push them to recognize that while conversations surrounding diversity may be uncomfortable, it is worth seeking out a diverse team in order to push ourselves to think beyond our own experiences and assumptions. In May 2019, I enrolled in the Doctor of Education in Leadership for Educational Equity program in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. I have chosen to focus my research on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and organizational identity and culture. As a scholar-practitioner, I am continuing to become a more distinctively qualified leader and partner in improving support systems that facilitate learning, collaboration, connectedness, self-efficacy, and community—not just for HSIs, but for all colleges. I am acutely aware that research and literature alone, do not constitute, nor guarantee success. I specifically chose this program because it is not about a set of specialized studies carried out, but it is a commitment to empirical evidence that continues to improve practice. Moreover, the program’s focus on leadership and educational equity has helped me strengthen my skills in executive leadership, as well as apply the best of what I have learned to the practice.