Maximilian “Max” Cordeiro, Chico State’s inaugural Human Resources Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Recruitment and Retention Specialist, discusses the role higher education played in opening his world to unseen possibilities—and how he is working to create similar experiences for others.
College opened Max Cordeiro’s world.
A 2012 graduate of Oroville High School, Cordeiro received a full four-year scholarship to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, through the National College Match application. He completed a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2016 and followed up with a master’s degree in human rights education at the University of San Francisco in 2021. Throughout both degrees, he used breaks to return to Oroville and work as the family’s main breadwinner.
Those years and experiences manifested growth: Max fell in love with film, made friends from opposite corners of the country, and attained a new vision for what his future might hold. One thing that did not change during Cordeiro’s personal evolution was his desire for everyone to have the same opportunities for growth.
“Higher education is a way for folks to expand their understanding of the world and their place in it,” said Cordeiro. “Historically, not everyone has had that chance, like I did, to go to college and fall in love with movies and have conversations about them with friends from all different walks of life.”
He hopes to help change that as Chico State’s inaugural Human Resources Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Recruitment and Retention Specialist, a position he was hired for in September. Cordeiro’s role is to uncover the obstacles preventing diverse applicant pools, remove those obstacles, and then help new hires thrive and find a home at Chico State.
His purpose inevitably returns to the student perspective, inspired by the importance college played in his own life. The “Admit One” movie ticket tattoo on the inside of Cordeiro’s right wrist signifies the importance of his inclusion in Vassar’s film club community. His two years as manager of the Vassar After School Training Program were also instructive. The local schoolchildren, who were mostly Black, rarely considered the possibility of attending their hometown college.
”Higher education provides so much for so many people, but others get left behind,” Cordeiro said. “I want to see what I can do to change that.”
That’s the framework through which Cordeiro sees the role of diversity and inclusion. “We can transform the physical spaces that make up a campus like Chico State by making space for folks from other backgrounds with diverse experiences. We need a successful and diverse faculty and staff if we want our increasingly diverse student population to succeed. That’s the work I’m here to support.”
Cordeiro’s hiring is a direct result of the University’s Strategic Priorities laid out in its Strategic Plan. Faculty Diversity Officer Michelle Neyman Morris sees this as an important step toward the University’s enduring commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Specifically, the commitment to “promote hiring and retention that contributes to a diverse and inclusive community that reflects student demographics.”
“We want to make sure our enacted values are consistent with our stated values, and this is a great step toward that,” Morris said. “Max represents the continued evolution that’s taking place on our campus. His position is directly linked to our EDI strategic priority.”
Morris and Cordeiro regard his hiring as one of many steps needed to meet systemic challenges on campus. According to data provided by the Office of Institutional Research and Strategic Analytics, the proportion of enrolled Latinx students at Chico State increased from 33.3% to 36.3% from 2018–2021 while the proportion of Latinx staff only increased from 11.1–13.5%, and the proportion of Latinx faculty fell from 4.5% to 3.9%.
Cordeiro has several ideas about how to bridge that gap and make an immediate impact, beginning with more active recruitment, intentional language, and strategic outreach. Updated bias training for hiring committees and restructured rubrics for screening applications are also in process. Long-term objectives include bridging stronger connections between the University and communities of color and building partnerships with programs producing high numbers of prospective applicants.
Hiring a more diverse workforce is one challenge; helping the new hires thrive and remain on campus is another. The same report indicated that Latinx employees were more likely than their white peers to leave the University in 2020 and 2021.
“One of the beautiful things I’ve learned about Chico State is that many people tend to stay here for like 20 years,” Cordeiro said. “But that isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. I want our diverse employees to thrive so that they’re excited to stay here for 20 years as well.”
Plans to improve the experience for new hires include a personalized and guided onboarding process that connects new hires to faculty and staff associations aligned with their identities. When employees feel successful and embraced by the University, they are more likely to provide similar services to students.
“First-generation students are looking for people like them to turn to for support—people who look like them, represent them, and honor their backgrounds,” Cordeiro says. “We need to be continually asking ourselves what we are doing with the spaces they are inhabiting if we are going to build a vibrant campus community for everyone.”
That kind of community, and space, is what Cordeiro discovered at Vassar. Having once spent his weekends in sparsely filled Feather River Cinemas in Oroville, he experienced something altogether different during his first month at Vassar when the student film group screened Memento. His memories of the electric energy in that on-campus theater remain vivid.
“That was the beginning of my understanding of film as an essential method of understanding yourself as a member of a community; whether it’s one you are born into or is chosen,” said Cordeiro. “Experiencing a movie with people that I had never met before, yet coming away feeling a part of something, was truly life-affirming. Many of the people I met are now my closest and dearest friends.”
Cordeiro, much like the main character in Memento, constantly looks back to find his way forward.
“Everyone should have the chance to feel like an integral part of a collective, and my college experience allowed me to have that. My goal every day is going to be to help make sure students have an opportunity to experience that same thing here at Chico State.”