Texas Tech University

First Hispanic President of Texas Tech University Honored in Diversity Exhibit

Kristen Barton

February 21, 2017


(VIDEO) Lauro Cavazos contributed to an increase in diversity at Texas Tech.

Lauro Cavazos
Lauro Cavazos

In 1983, Texas Tech University President Lauro Cavazos visited the Rio Grande Valley to meet potential Texas Tech students. He saw some kids crawling under a fence and crossing the road in the freezing weather. They weren't dressed for the cold, and the sight saddened Cavazos.

"I thought to myself, only about half of these young people would graduate from high school and only about 10 percent would go into higher education," Cavazos said. "It renewed what I'd been trying to do, and I stayed with it ever since. I kept working at it."

Cavazos made increasing diversity in schools his life's work. It is a lifetime commitment to help institutions understand how different people can contribute.

"We can't have all institutions be the same," Cavazos said. "Diversity is what comes from the strength of different people bringing their wisdom and culture to one place."

Cavazos is no stranger to diversity. At a young age, he saw his own father fight for it.

Cavazos grew up in the King Ranch. It was 850,000 acres – the size of Rhode Island. He spoke both Spanish and English and went to one of the Hispanic schools on the ranch until his father decided another school would provide a better education.

The elder Cavazos insisted on transferring his kids to one of the Anglo schools and, after some resistance, was successful. As a second-grader, Lauro Cavazos went from a school where all of the students spoke Spanish and grew up with Hispanic culture to a school where no one spoke Spanish and no one looked like him.

"I got beat up a little bit," Cavazos said. "I fought back and after a while I got accepted."

As a young child, Cavazos never dreamed about going to college. He grew up during the Great Depression and his family simply could not afford higher education.

Despite this, Cavazos went through the school system and eventually attended Texas Tech, where he received his bachelor and master's degrees.

Lauro Cavazos

He later received his doctorate from Iowa State University and taught at the Medical College of Virginia and Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

"I have been trying to improve diversity in the different institutions I've led," Cavazos said. "At Tufts, I chaired a committee on equal opportunity. The dental school asked me to chair a committee to see if we could get more diversity there. That was the very beginning."

Then, in 1980, Cavazos became the 10th president of Texas Tech. He remains to this day the only Hispanic and only graduate of Texas Tech to serve in that role.

As president, he worked to increase and improve the diversity of his alma mater.

"I knew the institution, so when I became president I really started to focus on low minority numbers," Cavazos said. "Major changes on college campuses require leadership from the top. You can't do it by yourself; you have to have the support of the administration."

Cavazos made recruitment trips to different towns to attract more minority students to Texas Tech. The bilingual skills his parents taught him came in handy; he was able to sit with families who spoke Spanish and reassure them their children would get a good education at Texas Tech.

"When I got to Texas Tech back in 1980, the minority enrollment was about 2 percent; I was one of the few people on the campus who could speak Spanish," Cavazos said. "There was a lot of room to grow in a positive way. It was slow and difficult. Eight years later, when I left, the minority enrollment had gone up to more than 8 percent."

This increase was used to increase minority enrollment in the future along with programs put in place to attract minority students. Cavazos and his administration did their best to give good scholarships and student loans.

After serving as the president of Texas Tech, Cavazos became the Secretary of Education in 1988. He is the first Hispanic person to serve in the U.S. cabinet. He continued his diversity in higher education efforts in this position and served until 1990.

Today, Texas Tech continues the efforts of Cavazos, and those efforts are being honored. The Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement received several awards for advancing diversity on campus in 2016 alone. Cavazos also is honored in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library diversity exhibit for his contributions to diversity at Texas Tech.

Seeing the awards Texas Tech has received for advancing diversity years later makes Cavazos pleased, he said, because it is important to continue these efforts.

"Stay with it, put in place mechanisms that will enhance diversity and perpetuate it; you have to work at it almost daily to do a better job," Cavazos said. "I really do believe in diversity. I believe these differences make for a better learning situation."

This story is part three of a three-part series of profiles highlighting some of those featured in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library Diversity Exhibit.

Diversity Exhibit
at Southwest Collections/Special Collections Library

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