After 20 years at IU, Dean Emeritus Gerardo González of the School of Education is retiring this summer.
González was the first Latino academic dean at IU-Bloomington. In 2018, he published a memoir about his personal and professional journey.
González was born in 1950 in Placetas, Cuba. He left in 1962, three years after the Cuban Revolution.
“I grew up in the states, and I always thought about one day going back to Cuba and connecting to my roots and learning more about the country I left behind,” González said.
He didn’t know much English when he arrived in Miami at age 11. He said transitioning to American life and school was difficult.
He was once suspended at a bilingual school for asking a classmate in Spanish to translate what they principal was saying, who was shouting at the class for misbehaving. By the time he got to high school, he said he knew enough English to get by but was still afraid to participate in school.
“I was afraid to get in trouble again,” González said. “They thought I wasn’t interested in education. That was not the case, I just didn’t know how to approach it.”
He completed a vocational track general high school degree with an emphasis on retail merchandising. He thought he would work in retail for the rest of his life, but he lost his job at a boutique during a recession. González said he's still interested in fashion.
“I haven’t lost my taste,” González said, modeling a fedora and black frames.
González earned a B.A. in psychology from the University of Florida in 1973 and a Ph.D. in counselor education and higher education administration in 1978. In graduate school, he founded an alcohol abuse prevention program called BACCHUS Network, Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students.
He worked various administrative roles at the University of Florida from 1977-2000, and in 2000 he became the Dean of the School of Education. He left the office in 2015 and has taught undergraduate and graduate courses.
González has also created partnerships between IU and a leading university in Cuba after President Michael McRobbie appointed him special adviser to the University Office of International Affairs on IU-Cuba initiatives.
Gavin Mariano, Ph.D. student in higher education and student affairs, met González during his undergraduate years at IU and asked him to be his adviser when he returned to pursue his Ph.D.
“He’s such an icon,” Mariano said.
On Feb. 12, Mariano organized a meet-and-greet for González at La Casa Latino Cultural Center. He said he will miss seeing González interact with other Latino students.
“He impressed upon a lot of Latino students, current and past, about how important education is,” Mariano said.
He said he would like to see a photo of González hung permanently in a campus building.
González said the School of Education teaches its students not only subject matter but also how to teach effectively at grade-level. Now, it is time for the state to put money into public education and to support teachers and school leaders, he said.
“At the end of the day, the most important school-based factor in student success is the quality of the teachers,” González said. “And we are discouraging teachers from going into education. We’re not paying them like the professionals they are.”
Long-term, this could damage students and public education, he said. However, González said he thinks people now realize that teachers and public education need more support.
In his office hangs a photo of González during his first trip back to Cuba in 50 years. He is surrounded by smiling Cuban school children in uniforms, eating churros. One boy in the photo holds up a peace sign.
He said he hopes his story will help inform debates about the value that immigrants bring to the U.S.
“The reality is that when immigrants are given opportunities, they give back to this country,” González said. “We have a lot to learn from the immigration experience of people who love this country as I do and are bound to give back.”