By WILL OWNBEY
Published: Oct. 8, 2014
The social conscience of Sacramento City College is checking out of the library. Rhonda Rios Kravitz, the dean of Learning Resources, is set to retire this month. A mentor, activist and role model for students, colleagues and the community, Rios Kravitz is more than the head college librarian to many people on campus.
Students, faculty and staff gathered for a party in late September at the Cultural Awareness Center in her honor. Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” and other songs of social revolution played in the background, while Rios-Kravitz circulated the room to greet each person by name.
“If you want to know what she means to this college, all you have to do is look at the number of students who attended,” says history Professor Riad Bahur. “You never see this many students at a faculty retirement party.”
Like many of her colleagues at the party, Gayle Pitman, professor of psychology, says she admires Rios Kravitz’s convictions on equal opportunity for all, education and many other social issues.
“She is so passionate, strong, committed to the students and social justice,” says Pitman. “She is a beacon of light for me.”
Lincoln Scott, press secretary for the Student Associated Council, says he first met Rios Kravitz in 2009. In the wake of the national headlines about school bullying, he wanted City College to put on its own anti-bullying campaign.
“As a victim of bullying in my past, I wanted the school to put on the campaign,” says Scott. “But instead [Rios Kravitz] wanted me to do the campaign.”
With the advice and support of Rios Kravitz. Scott organized the 2009 campaign. According to Scott, the faith Rios Kravitz placed in him has given him more confidence in pursuing his goals.
“I always have time when she is out on campus to speak to her, and no matter how busy she is, she will always find time to talk with you,” said Scott.
As an outspoken advocate for minority opportunities and diversity in education, sometimes people mistake Rios Kravitz’s passion for attitude, according to Director of the Cultural Awareness Center Victoria Henderson.
“She is very passionate about social justice issues, and some people see that passion as a negative,” Henderson explains. “But in this country it takes people with passion for things to change.”
Although she advocates for all students and her door has been open to everyone, Rios Kravitz has a close connection to Chicano-Latino students. During her tenure at City College she served as an adviser for the Dreamer’s Caucus, the organization for undocumented students. So in 2011, when she received the Carnegie Corporation-New York Times I Love My Librarian award, Rios Kravitz donated the award’s prize money to the Dreamers, according to Henderson.
In addition to receiving the I Love My Librarian award in 2011, Rios Kravitz was awarded the inaugural Women’s Appreciation Unsung Hero Award in March 2014 at the California Museum for her work with disadvantaged students. She is the author of multiple publications and is recognized by numerous private organizations for her work in social and higher education issues.
“My mother taught me to share, to share even if you were poor, and even if you had nothing, you could still find something to share,” says Rios-Kravitz.
When Adolfo Velasquez, political science and ethnic studies major, came to City College, his cousin, a former Dreamer, encouraged him to contact Rios Kravitz. She assisted him in obtaining a position as a greeter on the main floor of the LRC. She also encouraged Velasquez to learn about and be proud of his cultural heritage.
“Sí, se puede,” Velasquez says referring to the famous United Farm Workers slogan coined by Dolores Huerta and Caesar Chavez and adopted by Rios Kravitz.
Spanish for “Yes, it is possible” or, “Yes, we can,” Velasquez says this is more than a slogan to Rios Kravitz. She believes with the right opportunities made available to a student, along with hard work, anything is possible.
She is the backbone for my educational goals and everything I am on this campus,” says Velasquez. “She taught me how to present myself and taught me how to be a confident Latino.”
With over 60 percent of students living below the federal poverty line and a growing minority population, Rios Kravitz says she can relate to the circumstances of many City College students.
“I was born in Hunter’s Point, the low-income housing development in San Francisco, and grew up there until my family moved to the Sacramento area,” she relates. “I am bi-ethnic. My mother was Mexican and my father was Jewish.”
After a machine-press accident injured her father, the family moved to Elk Grove where Rios Kravitz attended high school. But Rios Kravitz spent hersummers in the fields, working alongside undocumented migrant workers for extra money. The conditions were terrible, she remembers.
“The truck would come from along way off with the water, and we would all share from one cup,” Rios Kravitz says. “And while you were picking, they would spray pesticides right next to you, and back then there were no masks.”
In the fields, she experienced firsthand what it means to be devalued because of skin color, and how it feels to be migrant worker. Her experience would later lead her to follow the Chicano-Latino civil rights and union leaders like Huerta and Chavez — personal role models she later used as empowering examples for the students she mentored. In her LRC office, a long way from the fields, Rios Kravitz recalls the events, people and opportunities she says she was fortunate to have.
In 1968, though she graduated from Elk Grove High School as valedictorian of her class, Rios Kravitz never considered college until a friend suggested she apply.
“I was the valedictorian of my class, and not one teacher or counselor ever suggested I attend college,” she says. “I was even awarded a scholarship from the Mexican American Youth Organization that I had no idea how to use.”
“When I was accepted into CSUS, I remember feeling so lost. I had no idea about college,” she chuckles. “But an old, white, gay professor took me under his wing. He was hard and mean, but he told me he wasn’t going to let this place beat me.”
And it did not beat her. At Sacramento State Rios Kravitz found another professor and mentor in Joe Serna, former mayor of Sacramento. She graduated with a degree in humanities and returned to her alma mater as the library’s head of Student Access Services. In 2007 Rios Kravitz retired from CSUS and was appointed dean of Sacramento City College’s Learning Resource Center.
This month the women with many causes retired from City College at age 64. She plans to expand her involvement with non-profit organizations and political activism.
“I am not retiring; I am retooling and reinventing,” she says.