Ethnic Studies Professor Ramón Chacón was a man of many hats. While he was known to don a different fedora each day, his influence on the Mission Campus went beyond just his fashion sense.
“Chacón was a motivational figure to many and changed the way people viewed or thought about race, poverty, politics, economics, and more,” said Georgie Garner ’18, one of Chacón’s former students. “He was impactful and made a difference in the lives of many people whether it was his family, his community or his students.”
Chacón, an associate professor in the ethnic studies department, passed away from cancer on Feb. 7 at the age of 72. He was a lifelong champion for diversity at Santa Clara and a source of support for students and faculty of all backgrounds.
Chacón was born in Brawley, California to parents Vibiano and Josefina Chacón, who were immigrant farmworkers. He was raised in Fresno, California.
He earned several college degrees, including his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fresno. He then went on to obtain two master’s degrees and a doctorate at Stanford University, with a specialization in modern Latin American studies.
Chacón joined the ethnics studies program in 1981 as one of the first hired faculty members. He also held a joint appointment in the history department through much of his career and served multiple appointments as the director of the ethnic studies department. He was instrumental in the organizing of many summer workshops to train other faculty on diversifying their curriculum.
A resident of Roseville, he was actively engaged with students inside and outside of the classroom. As university President Michael Engh, S.J., said in an email to the campus community, Chacón was a “devoted mentor to generations of Chicana/o and Latina/o students, many of whom returned to Santa Clara as faculty and staff.”
One example is Anna Sampaio ’92, current chair of the ethnic studies department. She knew Chacón for over 25 years, ever since she was an undergraduate student at Santa Clara. Sampaio sometimes refers to Chacón as the “godfather” of the ethnic studies department.
“Ramón was instrumental in shaping ethnic studies—making it go from a fledgling, really unstable unit to a stable program that offered regular classes; did campus programming that provided advising to students that created a sense of space and home,” Sampaio said. “He really stood out for his willingness to speak on behalf of students of color and particularly the Chicano/Latino students.”
Ethnic studies courses taught by Chacón included “The Chicana/o Experience,” “Latinas/os in the United States,” and “Racism in the United States.”
He also taught several history classes, including classes on Central America, Modern Mexico and Cuba, and the Caribbean.
Before coming to Santa Clara, Chacón taught at Humboldt State University as well as Soledad State Prison on several occasions as a graduate student.
Chacón was the recipient of the 2016 Francisco Jiménez Inclusive Excellence Award, which recognized his “35 years of service in mentoring, teaching and advocating for the needs of underrepresented students, as well as serving as a role model for fellow faculty and staff of color.”
He was nominated by Alma Garcia, director of Latin American studies and a professor of sociology. “Since the first day I stepped foot on our campus … Ramón took me under his wing by helping me to deal with the many challenges facing faculty of color,” Garcia said.
Indeed, Chacón had a passion for working with people and helping them succeed, especially at Santa Clara.
“Dr. Chacón leaves a legacy of thousands of students whose lives he touched. His mission was clear: to enable his students to truly understand the impact that inequality, injustice and racism have on everyone, not just those who directly experience it,” Garcia said. “He inspired all to make the world a better place. This was Dr. Chacón’s dream.”
Chacón was also the recipient of the 1997 President’s Special Recognition Award, as well as multiple honors for his service and support of Chicana/o students, faculty, alumni, and staff.
His work has been published in three anthologies and various academic journals, including Social Science Quarterly, Peasant Studies, Journal of Church and State, The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, Latino Studies Journal, Southern California Quarterly, Journalism History, and California History.
Chacón is survived by his children Ramón and Gina Hunley; his grandchildren Chance, Quentin, Cruz, Grayson, and Logan; and siblings Angel, Vicky, Joe, and Armando.
Chacón was predeceased by his parents and siblings Jose, Mary, Reuben, Reyes, and David.
Funeral services were held at Mission Santa Clara on Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.
Donations can be made to the Dr. Ramón Chacón Community Service Award, which was established with Chacón in 2016 in anticipation of his retirement. The award will honor students who have done significant work in serving marginalized populations. It will be bestowed for the first time ever at the ethnic studies department’s senior ceremony in May.
Erin Fox is a sophomore at Santa Clara University, majoring in marketing with a communication minor. Fox wrote this piece for The Santa Clara, where it appeared under a different title.