The Hispanic Faculty/Staff Association (HFSA) is a campus-wide organization that has been making a positive impact on the university through advocacy, education and service. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are spotlighting several HFSA members—all proud UT Austin grads—who are leading efforts to make their alma mater a more inclusive, equitable place for Hispanic/Latino faculty, staff and students. Read on to learn more about Robert Valdez’s good work with the organization and how he is fulfilling his grandmother’s legacy by taking his education and career to great lengths.
Assistant Director for Conferences and Event Services, University Housing and Dining
Role: Staff Co-Chair Elect, President-Elect
Years of membership: Three
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
What are some personal benefits of being a member of the HFSA?
For me, it’s all about feeling like I’m part of a family on this campus. It brings me back to being at a family barbecue, where I’m surrounded by people who come from similar backgrounds. When we went virtual, we made sure to add a personal touch by playing music by Selena—my most favorite artist of all time—and other songs we love to hear. The intent is to provide a relaxing environment that makes us feel more at home.
Could you please share a bit about your family background?
My maternal grandfather was born in Illinois but raised in Mexico. My grandmother was a migrant worker who settled back in San Antonio, where I was born and raised by my amazing parents. Growing up there, I was among the majority, so coming to Austin was a big change.
Is there a particular family member who you look to for inspiration?
My parents are by far the biggest inspiration of my life, but I will share a story about my maternal grandmother. My grandmother was a migrant worker who later took on a job as housekeeper at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. She worked full time so her kids could attend college there for free. Thanks to her, my mother, aunts and uncle all earned their degrees and passed her legacy on to the grandchildren. Right before she passed during my senior year of high school, I went to her bedside to say goodbye after she suffered a massive stroke. I remember her twirling the ring around on my finger while holding my hand. I made a promise to her that I would go as far as I possibly could in higher education to keep her legacy alive. I am proud to say in a few months, this dream and legacy will be come true.
Could you share a bit about how the HFSA is serving communities on campus?
We meet often with senior leadership and President Hartzell to talk about what’s happening in the community and to make them more aware of the campus climate. We address various issues such as equity pay and better Hispanic faculty and staff representation. We also host a fundraiser event in the spring for student scholarships. Last year, while working with the Texas Exes, we have raised up to $3,500 to be awarded to two new students. We all share the same drive to make some big changes across the board, and I feel very privileged to be in this group of people who are all passionate about this work.
What are you looking forward to the most this fall?
I always look forward to celebrating with my HFSA colleagues during Hispanic Heritage Month. And, as always, we are all excited about the big events like the John Treviño Jr. Holiday Assistance Program, which involves brining 350 turkeys and harvested vegetables to families. This past year, we did a curbside event, and it was a lot of fun putting up the decorations and watching community members happily waving goodbye after picking up their holiday dinners.
What do you love about your work at UT Austin, and what’s next for you?
I really enjoy just being on campus and meeting with students and families in person. It really helps to engage with them, to say hello, to hear their stories. After taking the time to talk with parents while they’re touring the campus, I often hear them say, “Yes, I feel good about sending my kids here.” That in itself is so rewarding.
As for what’s next, I’m now finishing my doctorate in Higher Education Administration at Colorado State University. My goal is to work my way up in higher education leadership and break that glass ceiling.