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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘An evolution for us’: Spokane Falls Community College hires new dean of diversity, equity and inclusion

Francisco Salinas will start Monday as the dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Spokane Falls Community College.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)

Francisco Salinas’ life might have been different had he not sold his 1976 Monte Carlo to buy a motorcycle.

The Yakima Valley native made the deal sometime before his journey from Walla Walla, where his family lived at the time, to Seattle to attend the University of Washington. The ride was “more unlike a car” than anticipated, he found, so it took him longer than expected.

This was 1987. In-person class registration meant fewer choices for late arrivals, said Salinas, who found there were not many classes left – save for those on Chicano and ethnic studies.

Finding that the coursework related to his own family history, Salinas’ interest in learning about various cultures eventually led to a fellowship, graduate school and a master’s degree in political science. At the time, Salinas didn’t understand what that degree meant other than it would “make me more employable,” he said.

“Nobody in my family to that point had graduated from college,” he said, “So I was sort of in uncharted territory.”

His career took shape from there, as Salinas has since worked for more than two decades in higher education on issues related to underserved populations.

Now, Salinas is taking his talents to Spokane Falls Community College as the new dean of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The 53-year-old was most recently assistant to the vice president for equity initiatives at Boise State University. He officially started Monday.

“There’s a great quote by (W.B.) Yates, who said, ‘Education is not the filling of a (pail), but the lighting of a fire,’” Salinas said. “It really lit a fire in me to take a look at what was going on in society in critical ways to try to define a role for myself in addressing issues of inequity.”

Salinas’ job is something new for SFCC, evolving out of what was once the director of student development, diversity and equity, said SFCC President Kimberlee Messina. Messina said the college decided to reorganize after the departure of the previous director.

The hire coincides with legislation enacted last year requiring community and technical colleges to implement a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan and a faculty diversity program with input from a diverse group of campus stakeholders.

As per the legislation, community and technical colleges are required to submit their plans starting July 30. Messina said Salinas will oversee SFCC’s effort in making that plan, providing input to improve policies and practices for bringing in new hires, training and classroom culture.

“It’s an evolution for us,” Messina said. “The state bill requires us to do certain things, and this position will oversee those, but really it’s something we wanted to do anyways.”

Whereas the director job was much more student-facing, Salinas will be responsible for supervising programming, professional development and support on equity, diversity and inclusion issues for the entire college, staff and faculty included, Messina said.

The student-facing aspects aren’t going away, though, as Salinas will continue to oversee SFCC’s Mosaic and LGBTQ+ centers as well as interact directly with students.

Salinas started at Boise State in 2008 as the university’s first director of student diversity and inclusion. Salinas worked at Spokane Community College in the late 1990s.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic made him feel isolated from his family in Washington, including his grandchildren in Spokane, so the SFCC opportunity was “too good to pass up.”

“I believe deeply in the transformative power of education,” he said. “I believe deeply in the effort we’re engaged in to overcome historic inequities, and I have a role in that conversation and I have amassed a lot of experience at this point. So, I’m really excited to come to Spokane to do this work with that institution and with those folks.”