When Victor De La Rosa was an Art major at San Francisco State University in the 1990s, he longed for a Latinx faculty mentor. Then he became one. Now, as the director of his alma mater’s School of Art, he is seizing the opportunity to make a wide impact of his own.
“I have a personal goal, which is to start to assemble a faculty that reflects the students that we serve,” said De La Rosa, who joined the San Francisco State faculty in 2006. “Now I’m able to respond directly and immediately. I don’t have to wait.”
SF State and many other art schools have committed to new diversity initiatives in direct response to the murder of George Floyd last year. New classes at SF State include Mexican American art history, muralism, “Art as Social Function: Chicanismo, Latinismo y California” and “Studio X,” a public art course taught by a different Bay Area artist each semester focusing on BIPOC student challenges. The School of Art also established a stipend award for Black students, and De La Rosa has participated in a College of Liberal & Creative Arts leadership development program based in equity and social justice.
“The art world, too, hasn’t created equal opportunity in this country,” he said. “It hasn’t always responded, even though artists are incredible social changemakers [and] incredible mirrors for our society. The field of art has really been an exclusive club, and it doesn’t fully mirror the population of this country.”
“When Vic was elected as director of the School of Art, I knew this was going to show our students of color — and especially Latinx students — that they, too, can start imagining themselves as professors and leaders in the university,” Art Professor Santhi Kavuri-Bauer said. “He understands the significance of his position and what it means to students who have similar backgrounds as himself: the first in their family to attend college.”
De La Rosa was raised in San Leandro as the son of a Mexican immigrant mother and Mexican American father from Texas. He took some semesters off from SF State to pursue career opportunities in apparel design, but would always eventually find his way back to the Fine Arts Building — with the support of faculty such as Candace Crockett.
“I realized that education was the way to disrupt the cycle,” he said, “and I want to do that for other students.”
De La Rosa (B.A., ’99) earned MFAs from UC Davis and the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was a President’s Scholar and won an award of excellence.
“I meet students today who are from similar backgrounds to me when I was growing up: first-generation, parents from another country,” he added. “To me, it’s exciting because I know the potential. I know the possibility if you apply yourself, work hard and hang in there.
“The students are hungry for it because they also did not get that type of role modeling in the arts in high school or junior high school. It’s so refreshing to them.”
Victor Saucedo, a senior and founding member of the SF State chapter of the Art Student Union, had stopped making art until he took “Chicanismo, Latinismo y California” with De La Rosa.
“He opens up the floor to everyone to start speaking where they’re coming from and their truth,” Saucedo said. “He told us to challenge the system a bit. … He is one of the most open professors I’ve ever had.”