Today I’m talking with Vicente Blas-Taijeron, our campus student trustee. He’s responsible for representing students on the Board of Trustees, as well as connecting students with an often quiet part of college leadership. He’s also head of the Pax Christian Collective, a progressive Christian community on campus. Coming from Tamuning, Guam, thanks for talking to me, Vicente.
“Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.”
We’ve talked a little previously about your Christian upbringing. Would you say that your experience of Christianity on the Pacific Islands has been different compared to mainstream American practice?
“I think so. We have to acknowledge; yes, Guam is a colony of the United States. But at the same time, it’s very distinct culturally because of colonization. And because of indigenous practice, we have a very distinct flavor of Catholicism. To put it in context, 85% of Guam is Roman Catholic. That’s a lot of people. And so within that, we have big Fiestas and other events to celebrate our patron saints of every village on the island.”
“But at the same time, I grew up worshiping my ancestors. Believing that when they leave their physical body, they inhabit the land and the jungle. And so there are practices back home where, before you go into the jungle you say a prayer which asks ‘ancestors, please allow me to utilize the jungle.’ And that’s distinct from what you think of American Evangelical Christianity. They would have revoked anything to do with indigeneity. But with my upbringing, it’s more of a balance.”
“Coming to Colorado Springs, I found myself saying ‘Maybe I’m not even Catholic anymore.’ [..] Since then, I’ve revisited because I think my ancestors are protecting me. But I’ve also realized that I felt protected by my God. They go hand in hand now. When I go to Mass at St. Mary’s, the cathedral down here, I imagine that my ancestors are sitting on the pews next to me.”
We’ve talked about social justice. And you’ve said you’re considering a FemGen or Race/Migration Studies Major. But I understand you’re intending to be a corporate lawyer. How do you reconcile your interests with more profit-focused work?
“I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t motivated by a need for stability in my life. I feel like most POC aren’t like this: we think ‘I have to give back to my parents, because they sacrificed a lot for me.’ In FemGen, we think critically about how inequity operates in systems of capitalism. And yes, it does seem ironic that I want to be a corporate lawyer. But I believe that me getting into this position is radical in itself. Because let’s be honest, there’s not exactly a lot of big, brown, corporate lawyers there. And so that means entering the corporate workforce with the values I hold, where I can infiltrate and make change to workplace culture. [..] We need people on the streets, but we also need people in the highrises messing things up.”
“One thing we did is, when the board convened last month, we ambushed a meeting for the Board of Trustees which Leigh Walden wrote briefly about [Catalyst 11/11/22, Student Group for Institutional Change…]. It was me in a group of six. We wanted to be very intentional about the space and understand that sometimes less is more. Because we could have easily gotten students to come and take over the whole room. But we wanted it to be a core group with different positionalities who could talk to different issues on campus; racism, fatphobia, queerphobia, etc. And so the six of us said our piece in front of the Board. It was hard for us to even access them. I have the authority because I’m a Board member, but they’re not and it was closed to them.”
“We all felt the need to make sure the board knows we’re here. If they come to campus to convene and they don’t even interact with one student, what is that? That’s something that I hope the board takes into mind going into the future.”
Do you think that the Board of Trustees is isolated from the student body?
“In my opinion, yes”
I think it’s just the structures we operate in, of Professionality and Confidentiality. When we see them, they can say ‘Yes, we’re doing the work for you.’ But then there’s no intentionality behind it. You know, these are things that are directly impacting us.”
“They think everything has to be confidential. Nobody can know. But sometimes I think people will want to know. If there’s legal bounds, ok. But our generation is interested in transparency and no bullshit and justice and equity.”
“I was elected by students. How can I not talk to them about anything I’m doing?”
I understand you’re essentially the main link between the Board of Trustees and the entire student body.
“So I can’t just be quiet. They need to know that there’s a student on the board. Because otherwise nobody knows who it is.”
Do you think that this separation is intentional?
“I can’t speak for the board. What I can say is, ideally, what I would like as a student. Not just Trustee listening sessions, but minutes from committee and annual reports from the Board. Like ‘Here’s something accessible to students so that they can know our main goals, what’s the standing of the college, what the finances are looking like.”
“I would prefer a more transparent and close relationship. Come into the dining hall and eat with students. Shadow classes. Understand what the school is now. In my opinion again, the Board is not reflective of what the student body is now. Not to be ageist, but there are generational divides at CC. And so they need to immerse themselves in this school. They might think they know, but they don’t.”
Is there anything you’d like to say to the student body as a whole?
“We need to stop abusing the word ‘Community.’ Think intentionally about ‘Are we a community?’ If you see something that’s an inequity, do you walk by and not say anything. While you pretend to be this very progressive person. Because that’s not Community. Community looks like showing up to things that are important to people, even if it’s not a part of your own identity. If disabled folks need something, show up if you have the capacity to.”
“Show up in whatever way you can. It doesn’t always look like activism. In class, if someone is saying something that’s problematic, check them out on it. Check our offices. Because that’s the way we build genuine community; when we actually show that we care for one another.”
“It’s very frustrating for folks on this campus who have different identities, when we are told by a lot of neoliberal students here ‘maybe there’s more ways we can work with the institutions. Maybe there’s more ways we can be friends with one another.’ We never said we don’t want to be friends.”
“But we can’t forget all of the things that have happened to me. Like having to do an activity where we would pretend to be a black, trans person. Or being asked ‘my son’s best friend is black. Should I tell my son about racism?’”
“Why does your son deserve the privilege to not learn about racism when it doesn’t even affect him directly? But then this black boy has to deal with it when he’s just a child? And so when marginalized folks hear ‘maybe there’s some way we can work with them,’ there’s a reason why the institution needs to earn trust. We’re protecting ourselves.”
“I feel blessed to have grown up in a community-centric culture that has reciprocity. Because when I came here, there’s just such a lack of reciprocity and it’s all transactional. I share with you, you have to share with me. Yes, that is just in a sense. But I can also share with you and not expect anything.”