Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Okay so I just have to hit continue. Okay, there we go.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): So today is July 22, 2021. My name is Rhea Chandran in the class of 2023, conducting an interview as a part of the Documenting Student Life Alumni Oral History project. Could you begin by introducing yourself with your name and your class year?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Okay I'm Rick DeJesus-Rueff, and I am class of 1975.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Thank you, and what do you currently do for work?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Well I'm semi-retired now, I retired from my role as Vice President for Student Affairs at St. John Fisher College. Now I am continuing only in a part time basis as the Academic Director for the first generation scholars program, which I helped to found at the college.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what did you major in that Haverford?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I majored in Spanish.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And where were you located before Haverford?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I was living- my family lived in Philadelphia, we lived in North Philadelphia, for those who might be familiar, we were in the, what's called the Hunting Park section. We literally lived right across the street from Hunting Park on Ninth Street.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what were your main reasons for applying to Haverford and why did you choose to enroll?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I was the first person in my family to go to college. I applied to Haverford because, basically, I was encouraged to apply. There were students from Haverford who were Padín scholars, that is students who came from Puerto Rico on the Padín scholarship. And they had connected up with a community organization that I was a member of called “Aspira”, which is the word for aspire in Spanish and it was an organization that was organized to get Puerto Rican students to both graduate from high school, and then go to college. So I met these guys, the Padín scholars, who was Juan Albino, Orlando Hernandez, Mike Fucile- they were the guys who came out and worked with us, at times, and also Rafael Suarez who was not a Padín scholar, because he graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in the city. And they introduced me to Haverford, and since they introduced me to Haverford, I thought, okay I'll go to college where they're at college. I didn't know anything about Haverford, at the time I was completely unaware of its academic reputation. It was just a college and I liked it, it was a- it was like a park, so it was like really nice. I've been living in the city most of my life so it's like, okay, this is good, I could do this.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And when you arrived on campus as a freshman what were your initial feelings about Haverford?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Well, initially, I was very excited but I was also very anxious. As I said, I was the first to go to college, so I kind of showed up and, in my mind, I thought this was going to be like high school, only I’d be living on a campus, and I really didn't understand what was going to really be expected of me, I mean it was... it was for me, the first two years at Haverford were really academic boot camp for me. I had never experienced the kind of academic demands and expectations but I'd also not experienced the kind of academic support. I think about like, Sidney Waldman who was in the introductory Political Science class that I had and the time that he took to help me begin to understand what I was doing in that class... he gave us a… he introduced us to regression analysis in a class and I wasn't really strong in quantitative analysis.
And I remember he took a lot of time helping me and two other young men in the class to figure it out and to be able to do well with it, Bob Gavin who I had in Chemistry in the spring semester my freshman year. It's a funny story and it's not at the same time, but when I was in high school, when I was in the 10th grade, and I was offered the option to sign up for my 10th grade classes, I was told that chemistry was optional. I was 15, 16 years old, they told me I didn't have to take chemistry, well okay I won't take chemistry, so I skipped chemistry I didn’t do chemistry. Fast forward to my freshman year at Haverford, and I'm taking an introductory chemistry class with Mr. Gavin and we had our mid term, and I studied for it with my roommate. We both studied really hard for several hours the night before, and we started the midterm and in about five minutes I pretty much wrote down everything I knew, in the Blue Book, and I was done. And I'm looking at my roommate, and he's, you know, a seat over from me and he's writing and writing and writing and I thought I just, I just turned it my Blue Book, said that's it, I walked out knowing that I just basically blew it. We got the exams back the next class and Mike, my roommate, he failed the midterm and I was amazed, because- but he wrote so much and he studied so hard like how could he fail, you know and I’m thinking oh my gosh what did I get, well I got my Blue Book back and there was no grade, it just had two words, see me. So I was, you know, thinking okay, this isn’t good, so I go into Mr. Gavin's office, after class, and he asked me, he says, do you understand English? And I kind of looked at him at first thinking uh yeah… He says well how long have you been in the United States and I immediately realized he thought I was like the Padín scholars, that I came from Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish. And I said, oh no, no, I was born in New York City, I speak English, I've spoken English my whole life and he looked he says oh. He says, uh how did you do in chemistry in high school? And I looked I said well, well I didn't take chemistry in high school, I didn't have to. He looked like I had hit him with a two by four. And then he started laughing. And he said no wonder, you don't know anything about chemistry, you don't know anything. He said wait a minute he got up and he went into his lab, which was next to his office door, and he came back with a senior Chemistry major. And he told the senior Chem major, he said, this is Rick, he doesn't know anything about chemistry, and he needs to know something about chemistry by the end of the semester he's yours. And so, he had that young man tutor me for the rest of the semester in chemistry, so that I could at least know something about chemistry. And that's the kind of thing that I experienced Haverford that I had never experienced before where, the fact that I didn't know something didn't mean that I couldn't know it, or that I couldn't learn it. It just meant that I’d have to figure out how to know it, or how to learn it, and that was different. That was completely different from anything I'd experienced before.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): No, thank you so much for sharing that that's really insightful to hear that you had a chemistry professor like that. I want to ask you a little bit about- you said that this professor asked you if you knew how to speak English, how did you feel when this professor asked you that, and did any of your other Puerto Rican friends experience... have experiences like that?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Well, my initial reaction was... I was kind of puzzled and kind of insulted. Because I didn't realize that he didn't realize that I had been born in the United States and it took a little bit for me to figure out that he was thinking that… he was trying to think about it from the point of view of all the other Puerto Rican students at Haverford were all born in Puerto Rico. I was the first Puerto Rican student that I know of- I'm the first Puerto Rican student at Haverford who wasn't born in Puerto Rico. Because even Rafael Suarez, who lived in Philadelphia, he was originally from Puerto Rico, was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States, you know, as a teenager. So, in Mr. Gavin's mind, if you're a Puerto Rican student and that meant you were born in Puerto Rico and Spanish was your first language. He had no idea that I had been born here. So once I kind of understood that, it was like, okay, and the fact that he was trying to help me, you know, he didn't just say that and then walk away, I mean he was actually trying to help me so that really didn't create the negative thing. I mean I've had other experiences where people are pretty clear about what they think about me as a Puerto Rican so so I- it's not like that's something I hadn't experienced that I didn't know about. I knew it. I mean my mother was a teacher's aide at the Ludlow school in North Philadelphia, which is like it's sixth and master’s street (at that time it was in the heart of the Puerto Rican community). And the principal one day was asking her about her family, and she mentioned that she had a son, who was in college and his first question was, oh was he at a community college? And she said no, and he said oh, is he at Temple University and she said no, he said, where does he go, and she told him well, he's at Haverford College. And he looked at her and he said, are you sure, and my mother said well, yes, we took him there. And he talked with her for a while, and he said he wanted to meet me because he was surprised. And so my mother carefully introduced me to him, but I pretty quickly picked up what was going on. And I understood you know that this guy’s... were gonna be like what the hell you doing out there you don't belong there. And you know so I've experienced that in my life, I mean you know it's part of me is like... it just goes with the territory, I… and I’m old enough now but I don't care about it anymore, when I was younger I’ll admit that I was quite angry about it, and quite offended by it and you know, but now I look back and I think to myself, I don't care.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): I want to ask you a little bit about your social experiences at Haverford and who were some of the first friends you had and where you felt like you fit in in the community.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I obviously, I didn't know anybody when I showed up, Mike Jenkins was my roommate and he was the first classmate that I met, we met in the… we were in Spanish House, so this is... it's funny and it's not at the same time. You know where the Spanish House is, the original Spanish house I'll say?
Rhea Chandran (she/her): I believe it's across College Avenue?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: That's right that's right it's across the street yep if you went across the Quaker Meeting House bridge, and then you cut through the person's property and across, that would be well, that's where I live, that's where I was. Mike and I were roommates and then José Rodriguez, who was the Padín scholar that year, he was in the room next to me, along with Jedd Starfurdy. Mike and Jedd had both studied in Chile, and so they both spoke Spanish, so the college decided to make them our roommates because José spoke Spanish and they figured Mike and I would be together.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: And then upstairs Rafael Saurez, was upstairs and then Mike Fucile was upstairs and Orlando Hernandez was up there, so those were all of us who were in the Spanish house. All of the other freshmen were in Barclay and Gummere. And at the time, it didn't occur to me that that was an issue or a problem, because I just didn't have any expectations, I didn't know, and so I just figured, this is the way college is, so. You know, pretty much and, to be honest, mostly I was just grateful that I was there, because I had gotten a scholarship to come to college, so it's like, you know they gave me a scholarship, so it's not my place to complain about anything, just accept what you got and be glad you got it because I also knew that people didn't get it, you know. I mean I’m the only guy in my neighborhood that went to college, so it's like I understood that, you know, this was a real lucky break for me, I wasn't going to, you know, squander it. Mike was really good, we got to be very friendly, very quickly. And, and we've stayed friends- we're still in contact with each other, we're still friends. Another guy that I met and with whom I probably formed the closest friendship that year after Mike, was the guy named Art Smith, he was from Scranton and we just connected, I’m not sure how we met, but I just remember we connected. The thing about Art- his father was, I believe an optometrist or an eye doctor. And we were walking across campus to class one day, and I told him I said isn't this great you get scholarship that come to this college like isn't that great. And he said well actually I don't get any scholarships, I said aw man you got to do it all on loans that must be really tough, he said, I don't have loans. I said, you don't have any loans, I said. Do you have to work? No. Well how do you pay? My father just pays for my college. And I thought that's crazy. And I said but he had an older brother who was a sophomore, well your older brother, he must get scholarships because there's two of you. And he said no, I said no loans, he said no, and I remember I looked at him, and I said what does your father do, sell drugs? I mean, how do you get that kind of money? I mean like that's a lot of money, you know and then he told me that his father was an eye doctor and you know, and that you know, he could afford it, he just wrote a check and that was the first time I’d ever met anybody who came from a family that had that much money. Like oh my God, like, you don't even need financial aid, like any aid, like I don't know to me that was just astounding. I had no idea that, I think, only 20% of the students at the College at the time, got financial aid. And, which meant 80% of my classmates could pay, cash, I had no idea, and then I found out that one of my classmates' fathers was the editor of the New York Times. You know, and I was like, oh my god, like I read the New York Times like that's important you know, part of me was saying, like who are these people, you know that's when I started to get a sense that something was different. And you know I met other students, you know, the other Puerto Rican students who were there we became close, that was good. I met several of the Black students who were in my class… Woody Neighbors and I are the ones who probably stayed the closest over the years. And we interacted a bit and I felt, you know more comfortable, but it was an upper class student, Langston Early, he was the one who I really connected with, that way- he kind of took me under his wing in a way, to try and help me- us from Philadelphia he kind of knew where I was from in North Philadelphia, and so he was like okay Rick. This is, this is what you need to know this is how this is done, and this is how does your game is played and all and. So I became very friendly with Langston and he was very helpful to me, really and in a lot of ways. I remember meeting Grady Lights, he was my supervisor in the Dining Center because my first job was working at the Dining Center. And so that's how Grady I met and interacted, so you know I did those things, I met people I met other guys who were in my class, but I didn't find myself getting close with any of them… Dale Barnes was probably the guy I got the closest to, in my class, I actually ended up at the mid-year break going to visit him and he lived somewhere near Washington DC so that was the first time I had actually gotten to Washington. And saw that, and I just kind of most of my time, I was pretty much overwhelmed, be honest, I was just like, between the academics, and then discovering that all of these guys are really very wealthy. And that was just very overwhelming, for me, and so, as I was careful I spent a lot of time trying to you know not get in trouble. You know, and not and not reveal too much you know because I didn't want anybody to know that you know I didn't have that kind of background I... you know I didn't know anything. And at the end of the first semester, the beginning of the second semester, there was a guy who worked in the admissions office, and he was quitting his work-study job, he graduated from my high school and he came out and he told me he was leaving his job in the admissions office, in another week. So, then I went to the admissions office and I asked if I could get a job there. What I did not know, is that Mr. Ambler had sent George, to find me, and tell me that because Mr. Ambler wanted me to come and work in the office, I have to back up. I told you that I belong to an organization called Aspira? Well, they organized a college conference for students in the Club, to meet college admissions officers to go to college and think about applying to college, and they had that at Temple University. And there were just a few of us, I don't know if there were even half a dozen of us students who were there, and there were these different college representatives, but Mr. Ambler was there. And I met him, and I ended up in a conversation with him, and he gave me his business card, and he invited me to come out for an interview, so I scheduled an interview. And I came out and when uh… fast forward when it got to be May close to May 1st, I’d gotten a letter of admission to LaSalle College in Philadelphia, and all they offered me was a student loan. And so I didn't have... you know the loan wasn't enough for me to go there, and so I knew I couldn't go, and then I was thinking oh my God, if I don't get into Haverford I can't go to college. Because I hadn't applied to any place else, you know I didn't know that you were supposed to apply to a dozen places, I just, you know, I figured you apply, you go, and you're there, right? So I called the admissions office at Haverford and they put me through to Mr. Ambler and I explained to him that I'd gotten a letter of admission from LaSalle and I was wondering if they had made a decision about my admission to the College. And Mr. Ambler said wait a second, and then he got back on the phone he said well Rick and then he said, you've been awarded a scholarship and I forget whatever it was $4,000 scholarship you know costs $5,000 to be at Haverford, I got a $4,000 scholarship, I got you know $2,000 in loans and I got a work-study job. And I thought well, and I you'll laugh when I say this, but I said to him, I said well that's great, but did I get admitted? You know I didn't know! He did what you did, he started to laugh, he was quiet he started chuckling, he said well Rick, generally the college doesn't award financial aid unless you've been admitted to the college, so yes, you've been admitted. I had no idea I- you know, I didn't know, so Mr. Ambler decided that he wanted to keep an eye on me. And that was his way of doing it, by having me come and work in the admissions office and I worked in the admissions office till my senior year. You know, and he was the one who slowly began explaining to me, where I was and where the college was in the hierarchy of higher education in the United States and so... And then you know I started learning, and that's when I really started to figure out okay I'm someplace very different than where I think I am. And that's when I started to get a little bit of an education about where I was socially.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Thank you for sharing all that, I want to ask you a little bit about your time in the admissions office; did you work under Al Williams?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Yes, I did, he came in my sophomore year, during the boycott.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what was that like?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Al spent a lot of time, just like Mr. Ambler trying to help me understand where I was and what I needed to do. He took me with him on a- several trips that he did when he went out recruiting. He had me involved with him and doing recruiting and looking at applications, you know, candidates for admission to the college, helped me understand how the process worked. He then- the college participated, then, to join a program called ABC, “A Better Chance Incorporated” and what that program, that is, it would take low income Black and Puerto Rican kids or Hispanic kids from other areas of the country and locate them in homes in suburbs, that had good high schools, so Lower Merion has... Lower Merion Township High School, which is considered really good- so they bought a house in Lower Merion. And then they had a group of eight or nine students there, plus house parents who oversaw them, and so they could go to that high school. And then we worked with them in that way, so he introduced me to that and helped me understand how that work… I had again, I had no idea that these programs existed, that you could have done anything like that, so I worked with him a lot, but then he left that role after a year because that's when Dean Lyons left to go to Stanford, and then Al became the dean of students. And so Al stayed close, you know, I stayed close with Al that way. And then, his wife Betty, became the admissions officer and so I worked with her and she hired me to be in the first pre-freshman summer program, one of the peer tutors in the pre-freshman summer program. So I did that, at the end of my freshman year, I worked in our pre-freshman summer program, and worked with Al and Betty Williams, and then that's how I met Manuel Cordero, who was the next Padín scholar, and he and I became very close friends and have stayed close friends to this day we're still in touch, we're still connected with each other.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That's great to hear and I definitely want to hear about your experience working in the pre-freshman program but I first want to hear about your experience with the Puerto Rican students of Haverford and how you came to hear about that group and join that group.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: It was a pretty informal thing. I don't even know that we had quote unquote a constitution, a charter or anything. We just were there. I mean look at the Puerto Rican students at Haverford, we started out as- it was just the Padín scholars. Do you know the history of the Padín scholarship at all?
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Yes but if you want to share it just for the record that’s-
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: You know so Enrique was the first one, and he didn't make it. Enrique left, I think, after about a year. So Juan was the next one, and Juan had lived in the United States for a little while so he was more accustomed to life here and then… who was after… it was Juan, then it was Orlando, then it was Roberto Rivera and then it was José Rodriguez who is in my class. So Juan and Orlando then decided that they would start advocating and they were very socially conscious and socially aware, and they began advocating for things, that's why they got connected to Aspira in Philadelphia, with… their trying to get guys like me to come out to the college. And so we just kind of hung out together, and when the boycott started, what we just said... what we said… we were the Puerto Rican students at Haverford. I mean we didn't even like it wasn't like we thought about this in some form of way and mostly I did, whatever the upperclassmen told me because I didn't know anything, I mean I was like, hey these guys know what we're doing they're smarter than me. And they know more, and you know, I'll just follow their lead. I'll you know, work with them. And so that's how I got involved with them and that's how the organization started, and then we just continued. And because we called ourselves the Puerto Rican students at Haverford, it just kind of stuck you know, but you know it wasn't, it wasn't a formal thing at the beginning, it was just, we were together, and hey that's us that's who we are. And that's how we started, and so I stayed involved, and you know and work with that and around the issues after the boycott. You know, pursuing issues of what today is called diversity, equity, and inclusion, but you know we were just trying to say, can we get more Puerto Rican students here and what can we do. And how can we do this. And they were more attuned to also looking at things from the perspective from the island, they were worried about issues related to the independence and the identity of Puerto Ricans... independence of the island and identity of Puerto Ricans as a result. And for me, it was a little bit challenging because even in the Puerto Rican community, there's a certain prejudice and a certain attitude about those of us who were born in New York City versus those who are born on the island. So I was considered a second class Puerto Rican because I hadn’t really been born in Puerto Rico, so was I really Puerto Rican? And did I really count or did I really matter? That was what I'll call an internal struggle within the community itself and it played out a little bit on campus as well. In terms of some people and how they approached me, but you know, again, as I said, I'm a lot older now, so I’m over that, that I don't care. I just don't worry about it anymore. Turns out it wasn't anything to worry about to begin with, I just didn't know that, as a young man.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): So during the boycott, you were a freshman.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Yes
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Do you remember any of the planning meetings or just internal discussions within the Puerto Rican students at Haverford and BSL or any other groups involved?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I participated in some of the planning meetings but mostly it was the seniors and juniors who ran the meetings and then they came out and they told the rest of us, here's the game plan, here's what we're doing. And… but I did participate in a few meetings. I know when we talked in the Puerto Rican students at Haverford, come on there was only eight of us. You know, it’s not like when we started there were a whole bunch of- of the eight, there were only six of us who are actively involved. So it wasn't like there was the same kind of exclusion or organization, as it were, for the Puerto Rican students, as there was for Black students. There were over 25 of them so that seemed like a lot to us but anyway. And so I knew that Orlando and Juan were making a demand that the college hire faculty to replace Mr. Asencio, who is about to retire that year. And the original plan was for the Spanish department to be closed at Haverford and for everybody to take Spanish at Bryn Mawr, but Juan and Orlando lobbied heavily along with Mike Fucile. And they essentially got that as one of the demands and then, when they went to hire the person, they couldn't make up- the College couldn't make up their mind between Mr. García-Barrio and Mr. García-Castro, so they ended up hiring both of them, which I was- of all the things that happened as a result of the boycott that to me was the most astounding, because that, you know, you have to understand, in my experience to that point in my life, like students, first of all- students didn't have a say, second of all Puerto Ricans had no say. And these guys actually compelled the college to hire two people, not one and they kept the department open. And I was like who are these guys, like how do they know how to do this, like you know it just... for me, it was the most astounding thing. I had never seen anybody from my community take on an institution successfully before that. It was just… you have no idea what an amazing thing that was to me, I was just amazed, beyond belief, I could you know... Like I say, even now, I think about it man that is crazy like how did they do that you know? So you know I participated in that meeting, I was assigned several times to be a spokesperson, for the boycott and they rotated roles and responsibilities within the group, so I remember in the one that I remember the most clear, was the day I was supposed to read a prepared statement when the college had responded to some of the demands whatever in our boycott that was considered unsatisfactory, and we had a statement. And the statement was highly critical of then-President Coleman. I was positioned to stand, you know, in the Dining Center, you know the hearths where the fireplaces are? I'm standing on the hearth so I’m standing up, above everybody and the whole area is filled with students and everybody and then in the back, it was different then. There wasn't a staircase that went down to the basement then, so it kind of came straight in, and so there were people all the way to the doors. And I'm reading this statement and I get to the part where I'm reading the part where I am condemning President Coleman's actions and I look up, and I make direct eye contact with President Coleman. And I thought uh-oh, I'm done. And now I'm getting kicked out of college. So I was like oh no this is bad, but I kept my composure. I just finished reading the statement and I sat down and I just thought. Well, I should just probably go back to my room and pack my bags, you know, like that's it we're done, you know why did I let these guys talk me into doing this, you know. But nothing happened, that I was... never nobody ever called to say what the hell's wrong with you, who do you think you are and nothing. And again, that to me was amazing, like, that's not what I had experienced before. Nothing like that, so that was different. And so there were a lot of things in my experience of Haverford that were just completely different from anything I had experienced before.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): I can imagine... That must have been a really scary moment as a freshman on campus, but I wanted to ask- the boycott lasted two months… Do you remember what the campus climate was like towards the beginning and then, as it extended, like what what student were-
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: There was a lot of confusion, there was some resentment, I had a faculty member who, in the spring semester, who was particularly negative about it, he was trying to be diplomatic, but he was clearly making statements that were disparaging and basically, basically telling us that what we were ingrates you know, at the end of the day. You know and all, but there was a lot of confusion, a lot of uncertainty, and you know even within our group, like we didn't know how this was going to play out. You know what was... and you know truthfully I think there were some folks who probably were thinking a lot like me, like okay we're probably going to get kicked out of the College before this is done. You know, because we've disrupted so much and we've done so much you know that that's caused the college to be embarrassed publicly, you know. But I was and I didn't realize it at time, but that was also when I was working in the admissions and I hadn't realized that Mr. Ambler was in that sense, also, keeping tabs on what the student sentiment was because you know, he would just talk to me informally, and you know talk to me... He never asked me any questions directly, like he never asked me well, what are you guys thinking or anything, but he was just talking to me and letting me share with him and he was trying to keep track of how I was doing. And also have a sense of what was going on, you know, on campus that needed to be addressed. Which again, I was not sophisticated enough to recognize or understand at that point. But I know that my roommate Mike Jenkins, at one point was really concerned about it, he was trying to figure out what the heck was going on, but then you know when he realized that nah you know I told him at one point he says you're an honorary member of the Puerto Rican students at Haverford because there just aren't enough of us, we need more guys. I'll take anybody I can get... you’re Jewish? I don't care, you’re part of the group, you're with us. And I did. I had him be you know, in the sophomore year by the time we got something here I made him our representative on what was then called CSSP, I don't know if that committee still exists. But he was our representative for the Puerto Rican students at Haverford on that committee. Because I just did just wanted to have many of us, like you know, one had gone away studied abroad, Orlando was somewhere else studying, you know off-campus and so it's like, there's just not that many of us. But uh you know, I would just say that there was a lot of stress, tension, nobody knew exactly how this was going to play out, where we were going to end up, and you know, and people were, and that was also a time and I think, unfortunately for me at least, that was one of the reasons I probably didn't integrate as much with other students on campus or into other activities on campus because we were boycotting everything. And so, by the time it was over, while the academic year was over, there really wasn't a way for me to get connected with people in organizations in a way that I might have done, had we not had the boycott.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That makes a lot of sense and during this period the Philadelphia Daily News now the Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece that detailed how the administration and the boycotters- Black Students League and Puerto Rican students at Haverford- were on the same side. Did you find that in the conversations, if you attended any administrative conversations, that this was the case that you were on the same side as the administration?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I would not have been involved in those kinds of discussions, so I really couldn’t speak to that.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): But by the end of the boycott, did you feel like the campus climate had healed or at some point or that there was a resolution that was satisfactory?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I don't I wouldn't say healed I would say there was relief that it was over. But there wasn't clarity about what was next, and so, and that was difficult and it's hard because it's hard to separate out what was going on at Haverford, against what's going on in the rest of the world, and in particular in Philadelphia mean at that time again, to put it in context.
Frank Rizzo’s at the height of his power. Now I grew up in Philadelphia, that means something to me. That probably doesn't mean as much to other people, but let me tell you, you know, Frank Rizzo was no friend to Black people or Puerto Rican people in the city of Philadelphia. And so that was, though, no joke, I mean you know and thinking about this stuff and thinking about like how things could play out, you know, I did not grow up with the policeman is your friend. Okay so I’m not looking at this with anything other than you got to be really, really careful, because these people you know, they're not your friends they're not going to treat you well, you know, things can go wrong really fast really quick. And so I think it was just a lot of relief, you know okay that much is over to can we figure out what's next? And because I got involved with admissions that gave me a constructive outlet in one respect, to be involved and, and I continued to be involved, you know, working with the pre-freshman program and doing those things, but you know it's hard, because you know lots of people were still very... you know lots of my white colleagues were still very… unhappy, I guess, because it kind of feel like they've been called out when they felt like they should be called out because they were the good guys.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Yeah um definitely. And you were… and two of the demands of the strike, or sorry the boycott, were related to halting admissions materials, to reevaluate what materials were being sent out to specifically minority students, as well as the development of a pre-freshman program. So I wanted to ask you what was your experience, um I guess recruiting minority students after the boycott or aiding in that recruitment and also in the pre-summer program, did you feel like it was organized after, it's like new creation, the next summer.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: With the admissions materials I didn't think about that a lot, the effort to recruit students, I discovered was a lot harder again. You laugh when I say, but you know hey I didn't realize how tough the competition was, like whoever heard of Wesleyan and Williams and Amherst like, who are they and why would anybody care about them? Well guess what? And there were these other places Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. And I thought okay, so why would we worry about that too... so like there was a whole lot that I had to learn, like pretty quick about this, and so that's what I was doing and then discovering you know, it's hard, I would say. And I think it's still hard to this day, I mean what do you think about in terms of academic preparation or you think about in terms of social and emotional readiness, to make that kind of a shift from a particular... You know it's hard. Think about what it must be like for a student who's grown up in a segregated community, on both sides, maybe why kids don't know Black and Puerto Rican kids but you know what when you're a Black and Puerto Rican kid and you haven't interacted with a lot of white people or you all know, are the things you've heard and things you've seen at a distance, and then you're in the middle of there and what is really their environment, I mean that's that was real clear, this was not my environment, this was their environment. And you know, it it's hard. You know you got to make a lot of adjustments, and there are students who look at that and say why would I go there? Langston and I went to visit Wesleyan at the end of my sophomore year, he knew some folks there, and I remember, we drove up. I'd never been there, I didn't know anything about it, and we get there and lo and behold, we come into this lounge, there must have been 30 Black students there. And I remember looking saying oh my God look at all of these students like oh my God, where they all come from? And there was a bunch of Puerto Rican students, there too, and I'm thinking you know, like I'm at Haverford you know there's a handful of us, I mean all of us together Black and Puerto Rican students weren't as many as just the Black students at Wesleyan. And then I thought, well why would a Black student want to come to Haverford, if you could come here. And there's more people and it's better, you know. I thought about transferring at one point I thought I might do that but I didn't. And I'm glad I didn't but, but it was a thought that I had and I kind of looked at things and I realized… again it's how I began to realize that you know there's these other campuses and there's fight for these other campuses. Langston used to joke and tell me that I should go over and transfer to Oberlin College in Ohio. Because there's a Puerto Rican student out there and he's all by himself, too, and so the two of you could become really good friends, so you wouldn't both have to be alone, he says, I can't get him to come here, maybe you go there, you know. So you know, this idea of being in a sense, isolated and you know, just not seeing a lot of people was hard, and that made it hard to recruit students because other students would look and say, well, why do I want to go there if there's nobody else there. It's just you. And I would say that they were probably less naive than I was when I entered college, I mean I think they had more of a sense of you know, like what they were doing and where they were going. I really… I was truthfully I was very naive, I mean look what I applied to college at the start of my senior year, I wanted to go to law school, I wanted to be a lawyer. So the first application I got was for Fordham University Law School because I wanted to go back to New York City. And I started filling out the application, because I figured I’d go to law school, and it got to the part where is asking like, where I earned my baccalaureate degree, and I was like what's that? And you know, where do you get that, and you know, I didn't understand that you had to get a bachelor's degree before you got a law degree. That's how naive, I was about college coming in, I didn't even know that. So it’s like okay, I think that many of the young people who came after me have much better… much more of a clue. They had a much better idea, and so they would look at Haverford not necessarily be as interested.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And with the pre-freshman summer program, how did you... did you- Were you involved in the development of that program and did you see it grow over the years?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I was involved- was hired to work in it, Jonathan Stubs and I were hired as peer counselors for the first program and we worked together on that. I did not plan it, I think it was all planned by you know the faculty and the deans, but we were hired and trained and then asked to do the work with the students. And I worked with the pre-freshman program after my freshman year and after my sophomore year, and after my junior year... I did it for three summers I think. I- the one summer I didn't do it because Manuel well took it over so, but it was the summer before I left for Spain, that was the last summer that I did it. And I did that, because I'd worked two jobs cause I worked freshmen year in the admissions office to earn enough money to be able to go to Spain. Because at that time you couldn't take your scholarship out of the college, so all my scholarship money was reserved for the spring semester, and I had to come up with the loans and the work money to go study abroad. But uh but I did work with it for the... for those years and stayed connected with everybody in it, that way, throughout the entire time, including during the academic year. We’d get together, and we’d talk and that's how Manuel and I became very close, cause I worked with him all that summer. And then I helped him all during the academic year as he made the adjustment academically to the college and I stayed connected with him and a number of other people who've been in the program.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And one of your pushes, um was to hire a full time ESL I guess, teacher/professor/tutor. Was that successful and what was that process like?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: No, it was not successful. It was difficult, I mean you know again part of me was thinking, I saw what Orlando and Juan had done in getting Garcia-Castro and Garcia-Barrio hired, so we thought oh well, then we could just do this, too. But the college was not ready or willing, at that point, to commit resources in that way. I can't speak to the college's reasons for being unwilling and unready, but I can speak to the college being unwilling and unready.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That must have been really difficult to deal with, given the previous success, and I wanted to ask you about the long term success of the boycott and if the administration stayed engaged with students of color’s demands and needs over your next three years, given that you've got to see the aftermath, the long term aftermath?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Well, I think the College made efforts, you know, to increase diversity. There were beginning to be increases... by the time I got to be a senior, there were more students from- Puerto Rican students who are from the mainland; it wasn't just from Puerto Rico. Because just seemed like all the effort, had been to get students from the island, and those of us here on the mainland hadn't been thought about, you know, in any meaningful way. So I saw an increase that way, I remember Glenn Alveranga came to the college, Eddie Andujar… enrolled he was from Vineland, New Jersey. Glenn I think was from the New York City area, there were others who came to the college, and more Black students who ended up coming to the college as well. And so I saw progress from that point of view. But in terms of the environment and the college becoming, in a sense of more accepting or more... diverse campus, I don't think Haverford was any more successful than other colleges, and I don't keep... the only college, I saw truthfully the only college that I saw that had shown some success that way, at least in my limited experience with it was Wesleyan; and that was because they had been numbers- because I didn't know of any other campus when I talked to people, and when I started talking to people from other campus that nobody was having a different experience than what we were having. You know, and so that was a different, so I don't know, I think that is a harder thing, and I think, to this day it's still difficult because there's a lot of resistance to change, in society. And there's a lot of backlash. It makes you... know that's one of the lessons that I think I learned is that you can make progress in one area and now all of a sudden it gets pushed back. And you gotta push forward again and then it's pushed back, but now you're pushing forward from a place that's farther ahead than where you were where you started but you're still not where you where you wanted to be, you know? And it's a constant push and struggle. And I think colleges have that struggle. I think there are a lot of people who still feel, to this day, that those of us who showed up somehow took somebody else's opportunity away from them, that we displaced otherwise people who are otherwise meritorious. You know, and I hear that kind of talk, still today in our society, I don't think it's any different, that way. What kind of stood out to me and I was... I’ll admit I’m a little frustrated and disappointed... when I came back to the College in 1984-85 and I worked as Assistant Dean, for two years, three years, whatever it was I worked at the college, Mr. Ambler was very proud and pleased that the college had gone co-ed. Now I knew about that and I thought about it, but not a whole lot. But what stood out to me, was the fact that, in the space of 10 years a college had managed to change from being all male, to being co-ed with almost half the students being female. And yet, the percentage and number of students of color- Black students and Puerto Rican students- really hadn't changed. And I thought but we were the ones who did the work dammit. How come we're not seeing more change, how come we’re not seeing more progress, and yet the college goes co-ed and it seems to be like in the blink of an eye. They got numbers to where they should be. And that was very hard for me.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That must have been incredibly frustrating just hearing that makes me angry. And, as a young alumni I guess in the year 1977 there was, I guess, a follow up protest of some sorts, did you hear about that protest and what was your reaction to it?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: I did hear about it, at that point, I was just starting my first professional position, I was working at a college in South Jersey- a community college in South Jersey, Atlanta Community College. And so I wasn't directly involved with it, I didn't get too connected to that, I knew about it, but there you know and then something to keep in mind, you know, and I think sometimes in these conversations people can lose sight of it, but you know we're all human. And so I want to say this carefully but let's just say that we're not all good people. And so, some of the petty kinds of things that you see in human groups, while they're in our group too. So there were some what I'm going to call petty infighting. Now I have to take responsibility for my share that you know, at one point Orlando and I, and let me tell you something, if there's one person who’s responsible for me being successful as a student at Haverford College it's Orlando Hernandez. Absent him, it's an open question whether I would have made it to graduation okay so. I owe enormous debt to Orlando, he was the smartest guy of all. I'm serious, he's the smartest guy and he helped me so much. But he and I had a lot of conflict because Orlando thought about big ideas and social movies, and all this and he's talking to this kid who's from a working class background in the city. Who has no clue what the hell he's talking about. And there was a lot of friction at different points between us and I started thinking he's this elitist sophisticate whatever you know, like you know who's… who does he think he is anyway, you know, and all that, and he was really trying to help me understand that there were bigger issues. And it was really hard for me at that point, I still didn't have a level of sophistication or awareness, you know not in that way I didn't have that. You know I had other things that stood in my favor but not that I didn't have that kind of awareness. The students in 1977, there was a person in the group who was too busy being self serving and for me, it became an issue because it got personal because he was… one... a young lady who would come to Bryn Mawr, a Puerto Rican woman who I thought very fondly of and all, and he was basically trying to date her for want of a better way of saying it and he wasn't in my mind honorable enough a man for her, and that kind of tension that kind of stuff was going on, too. And I didn't like the way he treated her and had I still been a student there that time, we probably would have had a fight. I'm serious, you know there's some things that I’ll go with and some things that I don't go and there it is.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And, did you hear about the protests of it… as it was going on and were you involved in any of the communications with that?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: No, they asked me for the history that's what I sent them, the first time a copy of a history that Juan had started writing and then that I then added to, that's all in the archives at the library I'm sure you can find it there.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Yes, I reviewed it in preparation for our conversation. And I actually wanted to go back a little bit and talk about your academic experience in Haverford. You majored in Spanish and Latin American literature, so I wanted to ask you, given that the Spanish department was quite small, even though it is a big upgrade from one professor to two professors, what your experience was like majoring in that department with Professor Garcia-Barrio and Garcia-Castro?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: So again, you have to keep in mind that I’m born in the United States, English is my first language, okay. In my generation and my time, to teach us Spanish in the United States was considered inappropriate. And, my parents, having grown up in New York City are well aware of what we would face if it was known easily that we were Puerto Rican, it could be told, either by how we dressed or how we spoke. So my parents spent a lot of time trying to shield us from that, and one of the steps that they took, with the best intentions, but not necessarily with the best outcome, was they would not speak Spanish with us and they would not allow others to speak Spanish with us in the family, because they wanted us to speak English, so that people wouldn't know that we're Puerto Rican and therefore we wouldn't be blocked, in that way. So I get to Haverford, and one of the things I decided was that I was going to learn Spanish. I was at that point, I was enough of a nationalist and that's enough, of whatever, that I connected with the guys on the island, that I was like nah I’m going to learn this I, and I figured I would take a course every semester, so that I could learn Spanish. I ended up majoring in Spanish. It was really important to me in terms of my own identity, who I am. Probably my proudest moment was in my senior year, Garcia-Castro had brought a poet from Chile to speak at the college and the man came and he spoke, a group of us were with him and we're talking after he gave his lecture and I remember, we were walking from… was it Sharpless? But anyway in Sharpless but anyway we're walking back towards Founders Hall. And everybody speaking, so all the other guys that are there, all the other Puerto Rican students, and now there's guys, who are younger than me obviously I’m a senior. And there’s all these other guys, juniors and sophomores and freshmen and they're all from Puerto Rico or from Spanish speaking countries, native Spanish speakers. And we're all talking with him in Spanish.
And he's one by one, is asking everybody where they're from and he gets to me, and he asked me, asks me where I was from and I respond I'm from New York City. And he says yes, but where are you really from? And I said New York City, he says, you were born there? And I said yes. And then he said, but you speak Spanish so well, he says, you don't even have an accent like an American. And that was for me the best. That I owe to Garcia-Barrio and Garcia-Castro. They were the ones. And that's when I felt like this was me, I’m whole again, and you know, like, I really felt like this is amazing. This guy couldn't tell that I was born in the United States, he thought I was a native speaker from Puerto Rico. And he marveled at that.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That's really amazing that you had such a great experience and the department, I also wanted to ask you about studying abroad in Spain and what was that like?
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: That was very interesting. I didn't want to go to Spain, I had... Mike Jenkins, and I had been planning to go to Chile that fall semester. If you know your history, what happened in Chile in the fall of ‘73? Well, we could not get a visa to go there, because the CIA already knew what was going to happen and they weren't sending anymore Americans, they just weren't telling us, that's all. Garcia-Barrio told me that I had to go someplace, I could go to Mexico. I didn't want to go to Mexico is.. in my mind going to Mexico would be like being in the United States. It's like right there, like how's that going to be different, you know, whatever. And I was like Spain, I don't want to go to Spain, Spain is boring, it's Europe and it's like why go there, Franco's in charge, why do I want to do that for, you know. And, but I couldn't find any other place to go and then there was the one program I could do was the Vassar-Wesleyan program for a semester in Madrid. So I ended up applying and I got accepted, and so I went.
And I’m glad I did, I mean again I had all these preconceptions and stupid ideas basically because my own ignorance, I learned so much. And I saw so much and, yes, Franco was in charge, and I got a good close look at what it looks like when you have an authoritarian person in charge of a government and how that works and how it doesn't work. But it was a good experience for me and it gave me a different geopolitical sense of things, because I clearly remember the Yom Kippur War starting, and I'm sitting in class, in a political science class and there's a map of Europe. And I could see the Middle East, but what I noticed was I said there's Moscow, here's Madrid. They could get tanks from Moscow to Madrid in two days. No wonder they think about this differently, because at that time and again, I don't know if you know the history, but the war went on... and Israel was losing the war. And the Egyptians were getting resupplied for a final push and Nixon told the Russians to stop resupplying the Egyptians. He resupplied the Israelis, and he put the US nuclear force on full alert. And told the Russians to stop and he said, if you don't, then we're going to go to war with you. And people in Spain, were like that's not a good idea, and I'm looking at the map and I'm saying, and I know why. Because they could be occupied like in nothing flat. They don't have an ocean between them and these Russians. We do. They have to think about this differently. And that was, for me, that really opened my eyes to saying I've got to start thinking about things from the perspective of people from where they are, and not simply from my own perspective of where I am and what I know. So that was really powerful for me.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Thank you so much for sharing that's really interesting to hear that, you know, expansion of your academic experience, along with your social experience with the boycott and with the group as it continued over the next few years, at your time there. I just generally wanted to ask you, as we wrap up this interview, what advice you have for future and current students of color at Haverford, as they you know, deal with a lot of the same problems that you dealt with in your time.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: As hard as it is because age is what's helped me understand things and I know that I heard people say things to me as well, when I was younger and I didn't listen to these old people either so. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the young people said he’s just another old man whatever, but the most important thing is be patient, be patient with yourself and be patient with the institution. There's... the one thing that is incontrovertible is there's an enormous amount of benefit to be gained from getting a high quality education and academic excellence that's... the one thing I walked away from Haverford with, the understanding- what academic excellence really means. And how powerful that can be in terms of anything you want to do in life professionally. It makes all the difference in the world and the reason I progressed because I was generally better prepared than most of the people that I was working with. Guess what? I know more than you because I know more than you, and I know how to learn more than you and that's what Haverford taught me. It taught me be prepared, do your homework and know what you're doing. Know where you're going, know how to get it done. I ended up graduating from my master's program at the top of my class, I was in the top of my class in my doctoral program. I mean that's academic stuff, guess what? Haverford prepared me for that. I was really ready, I didn't know it, I did not go to graduate school as naive as when I showed up at undergraduate. And I was not as underprepared as I was when I showed up at Haverford. I was ready for prime time. Be patient, stick with it, and really think long term. Haverford, as hard as it might be to say this, for a number of reasons, but look Haverford is just a moment in your life. These four years, now, as a young person, that seems like a long time, and a lot of time, but it turns out, that when I look back after 40 years Haverford’s a moment in my life, but that moment, made the other 40 years possible, the way they were. That's the way to look at Haverford. Make it as good as you can while you're there, but keep your eye on the prize, because what you really want to work on isn't Haverford. What you really want to work on is this bigger society that's out there, and you want to get control at some of these institutions and shape that society, and you want to redirect them. That's what's going to make a difference. What Haverford is or isn't and I don't want to be disparaging about the college, because I really am appreciative of everything that the college has given me, but what Haverford is or isn't doesn't really matter. It doesn't change life for people in the communities that I came from. What changes, like in the communities, I came from, is how I shaped the educational institutions that serve those communities. That matters, you know. Who's in charge of the hospitals, who's in charge of the schools, who is in charge of the different institutions that make things happen. That matters. Prepare yourself well at Haverford so that you can have as influential voice in those institutions. That's what I would tell you to do think that way. If Haverford changes and becomes a better place, wonderful. And if it doesn't, so what? You got the education and you move on and you make a change, where it really matters.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Definitely and I'm sure the students of color currently would thank- have thanked your generation, for all the work that you did to make it a more hospitable place for the current generation. I just wanted to ask you if you have anything else you wanted to share before... that we might not have talked about before we end?
I think it's always important again as much as we talked about these issues, looking at them from a social point of view, and maybe Haverford, in that sense as a little bit unique. But to remember that you know that we're all human. And it's those human relationships that really matter. I mean those friendships that I was able to develop in the middle of all of the struggles, that was important. That was really important. And it's not something that I would minimize or otherwise discount. The other thing that I would say, and we didn't talk about it at all, but you know, it's an undercurrent or a thread that runs through everything with Haverford for me at least, is don't underestimate the power and the importance of, say, when I say pay attention to the academic excellence, don't underestimate the power and the importance of the Honor Code. That really changed the way I thought about myself and how I conduct myself in life.
I was never... there's no other environment where I've been where so much responsibility for acting with integrity is placed in the individual, in me. And that wow, that talking about something that helps you grow up pretty quick, that's one of the things that can do that, if you take it seriously and you really think about seriously what that Honor Code means, and what it means for you, those would be two things I would say don't underestimate- because that, that's not at Wesleyan, that's not at Oberlin, that's not at Harvard or Yale or Princeton. None of these other places got that. None of them. That's one thing I would say is really unique to Haverford, and really something that could be very, very... my wife, who is an alumna of Bryn Mawr, when we talk about our experiences at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, that's we always come back to that. That that honor code is really a powerful influence and how we've conducted our professional lives.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Thank you so much for sharing all this, especially that piece about the Honor Code that definitely resonates. Yeah if you don't have anything else to share, I will stop the recording now.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff: Okay, I’m fine.
Rick DeJesus-Rueff (Class of 1975) interviewed by Rhea Chandran (Class of 2023)
Rhea Chandan (Class of 2023) interviews Rick DeJesus-Rueff (Class of 1975) about his experiences as a student of Puerto Rican descent at Haverford. This interview was conducted as part of the Documenting Student Life Project.
DeJesus-Rueff, Rick (interviewee)
Chandran, Rhea (interviewer)
Metadata created by Rhea Chandran, Class of 2023, and Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger