New assistant dean determined to assist underrepresented groups

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Luz Maria Gordillo left her native Mexico City to be the first person in her family to attend college.

That determination has led Gordillo to a remarkably varied career that continues with her taking on the new role of assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).

“As a woman, gender divisions were difficult and I was always pushing the envelope,” said the professor from the Department of History at WSU Vancouver.

The position was created last summer by CAHNRS outgoing dean André-Denis Wright to help faculty, staff, and students understand the importance of encouraging diversity, and provide assistance and opportunities to underrepresented groups.

“Dr. Gordillo is a driven and dedicated woman who has an impressive background in working with underrepresented populations,” Wright said. “I know she will help CAHNRS continue to grow and evolve as a place that is welcoming to people from all backgrounds.”

Gordillo came to WSU Vancouver in 2005 after earning a Ph.D. in history from Michigan State University. For the past year, she has served as the campus director of faculty equity and outreach, a position she will keep.

Before starting work on her doctorate, she went to The New School and started her career in New York City. She worked for six years as a fine arts photographer, showcasing the talents of underrepresented groups.

“This new assistant dean position in CAHNRS fits exactly the kind of work I’ve always done and hope to continue doing for the rest of my career,” Gordillo said. “I have always worked to boost underrepresented peoples and will continue that in this new role.”

Her top priority is to meet as many CAHNRS faculty members and staff from underrepresented groups as possible, as well as with CAHNRS leadership. The college includes WSU Extension, so that means talking with people across Washington state.

“I want to get to know those who are already there to hear what their needs, goals, and visions are,” Gordillo said. “I want to learn about where they are in their career and see how I can begin to provide support.”

She will remain in Vancouver, and knows Zoom meetings will remain a large part of her job even as many people return to work on campus. She does plan to travel to all four WSU Extension and Research Centers in the state as soon as that is possible.

“I’ve already mapped out my routes to get to Mount Vernon and Puyallup,” Gordillo said. “I will head east after that. It’s important to go in person and get to know the communities that Extension works with. And I want to meet the graduate students in those centers as well.”

She’s particularly looking forward to meeting with Extension faculty because “they are out there in the trenches, doing important work such as community building and nutrition education.”

Though her background is in the humanities, Gordillo has a strong interest in other scientific fields. She planned to study math and physics when she first went to college in the late 1980s. However, she was pushed to more traditionally female arts and humanities coursework.

“Despite being a strong-willed woman, I was still tracked,” Gordillo said. “I have loved working with artists and historians, but I want diversity, equity, and inclusivity embedded in sciences so that what happened to me, being pushed away from my original plans, doesn’t happen anymore. We have to include everyone.”

The assistant dean position will be half of her job, while she remains as campus director of faculty equity and outreach at Vancouver and in her history department faculty role. Combining her research interests in history and science, she is currently working on her new book, titled “Patients, Philanthropists, and Fieldworkers: The Hidden History of Women and Eugenics.”