The Colorado Latina/o/x community is deeply saddened by the news of one of our founders Mary Ontiveros, the former Vice President of Diversity and first Latina/o/x Vice President at Colorado State University. As Latina/o/x higher education scholars and practitioners, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and those who came before us. Each of our founders have laid the foundation for CoCEAL to maintain mission-focused to advancing equitable educational opportunities for Latina/o/x students in Colorado. Mary O. was not only one of the founding members of CoCEAL, but she also led the way for many of us, as a trailblazer, in accomplishing many firsts as a Latina. Her “firsts” made it so that many of us and others could have ganas and opportunity to lead and share our truths as Latina/o/xs. Her unwavering advocacy for social justice, diversity and equity, and corazón for the educational advancement of Latina/o/xs was unmatched.
Mary O. was born in Pueblo, Colorado and was very proud of being a Wildcat from Pueblo Central High School. She pushed herself with the support of her family to attend college, and become a first-generation college graduate with a Master’s degree. She was also extremely proud of being a CSU Ram. She LOVED CSU. Mary O. was a storyteller and a master community weaver. She had a way of making others feel valued and heard—like they belonged. She always acknowledged and recognized people and said, “it’s the people that make a difference.” But we at CoCEAL acknowledge that Mary O. has made a significant difference in our Latina/o/x community, and because of her as one of our founders, we are.
To honor Mary O., the current CoCEAL Executive Team called upon CoCEAL leadership past and present to celebrate and remember her. A life so beautifully lived deserves to be beautifully remembered.
To further honor Mary Ontiveros and her legacy, CoCEAL has decided to name a CoCEAL Impact Award after her. This award will be given to members of our community who courageously engage in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging work, particularly advancing equitable systems for anti-racism and supporting LGBTQ+. The inaugural Mary Ontiveros for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Excellence award will be presented at our virtual Spring Membership meeting on April 1st.
May Mary Ontiveros rest in power and peace. Let us continue to keep her memory and spirit alive within us.
CoCEAL Leadership (Past and Present)
“Mary was a courageous Chicana whose life passion enhanced the rights of Latinx, contested the oppressive status quo and provided educational and professional opportunities for others. She was a fearless fighter for diversity, inclusion, and equity. Mary O. lived enacting her passion, challenging systems, providing that “personal touch” building relationships, listening to personal stories, and positively impacting so many lives.”
-Dra. Patricia Vigil, Founder and first President of CoCEAL
“I initially met Mary O. at a fall CoCEAL meeting. I was new to Colorado and she made me feel so welcomed in this space because of her authentic way of being. She naturally created a sense of belonging that made me (and I am sure hundreds/thousands of others) want to continue to stay engaged with CoCEAL. I later had the opportunity to join Mary O. for dinner with other colleagues from CSU and I was in awe when I learned about some of the transformations she was advocating for at CSU to culturally support students. They were not insignificant, but rather the systemic changes that higher education needs to truly be an inclusive and welcoming place for all students. I truly wish I had the chance to work more closely with Mary O., but I will forever be grateful that our paths crossed, and I witnessed firsthand her chingonaness and “the impact” that she unapologetically offered to other brown scholars, practitioners, and students in Colorado and beyond. That impact is her legacy that we all will continue to honor and carry on.”
– Dra. Mary Reyna Sauceda (she, her, ella), Current President of CoCEAL
“I first met Mary as a senior in my undergrad career at CSU, and was immediately drawn to her authenticity as a leader and fellow Pueblo Chicana. So much so that we remained connected and she began to serve as a mentor for me, and eventually as my first jefa in the Office of Admissions. I shared Mary’s passion for access and DEI work, and loved that I was able to be a part of her Alliance Partner vision in the Valle of Southern Colorado to create and sustain paths for students from underrepresented communities to be successful at CSU. After transitioning out of Admissions at CSU, Mary took time to affirm me at various stages of my career, and I will be forever grateful for her investment in me and so many other Brown/Latinx mujeres. GRACIAS for your chingonaness, Mary O! Your vision and amor for your comunidad will continue to live on through us. Rest in Power. <3”
-Dra. Reyna Anaya, Past President (2019-2020) & Senior Student Affairs Officer/ Dean of Student Success at Community College of Aurora
“I first met Mary O. as a graduate student at Colorado State University. As an early career professional, I distinctly remember the presence of Mary O. and other CoCEAL founders like Patricia Vigil and Judi Bonaquisti at CoCEAL meetings. They may not have remembered me then, but I sure remembered them. It was an incredible gift to have these possibility models in front of me at that point in my career. When I served on the hiring committee that recommended Mary to be the first Vice President for Diversity at Colorado State University, I remember feeling so excited that such a chingona would be taking on this role for our campus. Because if Mary could, then I could too. Mary O. carved paths then brought others along with her. She told stories, made folks feel welcome and empowered. Mary was a visionary and immediately would turn around, roll up her sleeves, napkin and water bottle in hand, to put in the hard work to make these visions come to fruition. In doing so she made our campus and the state of Colorado better for everyone. Mary, was hot sauce in her bag swag before that was even part of a song (legitimately, Mary was the first person I knew that actually carried a bottle of hot sauce in her bag). Simply, her impact on our campus and across the state of Colorado cannot be fully articulated. Words cannot do her impact justice. Now as a past president of COCEAL (2018-2019) and the current Director of El Centro at Colorado State University, a center she started her career in and also was a director for, I can only hope to carry an ounce of her legacy and impact forward with me. Collectively, we build upon her work and continue to move her vision forward. Thank you, Mary, for being a fierce Chingona, so that we could too. Rest in Poder.”
– Dora Frias (she/her/ella), Past President of CoCEAL (2018-2019) & Director of El Centro, Colorado State University
“I don’t remember the first time met Mary. That may seem a strange opening when trying to find words significant enough to honor the memory and legacy of such an outstanding woman. I know she was the director of admissions when I worked in the CSU admissions office as a freshman, calling students from the phone bank and recruiting them to be a CSU Ram. I know she went to high school with my father even though she was a couple of years behind him, but I didn’t know her from Pueblo. As I became a professional in higher ed, Mary’s impact and influence on me became ubiquitous. It was always there. I don’t know when it first appeared, but I can’t remember her wise insight and tactful honesty not being there. I guess that is the beauty of being effective in what you do, and likely what so many of us strive to achieve as we work toward educational equity for our students. We strive to develop policies so seamless and beneficial that nobody recognizes they are there or that barriers existed in the first place. It’s just the way it is. Advocacy and equity become invisible because they are everywhere, and they seemingly have always been there. Only noticed when they are not there, like realizing the electricity is out because it didn’t flip with the switch. It’s only noticed when it’s gone. Scratch that. It becomes more important when it’s gone. I feel the pain now that she is gone. I will miss you, Mary Ontiveros, and I am grateful for having known you.”
– Dra. Judi Diaz Bonacquisti
“I’m deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to cross paths with Mary throughout my higher education career, including during the early years of CoCEAL. As the vision of CoCEAL was emerging, I often considered Mary to be the organization’s conscience. When I was President and needed to make a decision, my first thought was usually, “what is Mary going to think about this?” Mary was brilliant, thoughtful, and demonstrated amazing foresight. She had a knack for asking the right questions, while always placing students and communities at the center of the work. Like others, I first met Mary when I was a student employee in the admissions office at Colorado State. I didn’t realize it at the time, but over the next thirty years Mary would become a significant role model, mentor, and friend. The power and brilliance of Mary isn’t just that she overcame significant obstacles in order to become a trailblazing Chicana at a place like CSU, but it’s how she was able to intentionally and successfully bring others along with her. Mary’s been an incredible force in the lives of so many, in and out of higher education. Mary, thank you for your wisdom, strength, humor, and most of all your friendship. Rest in Power.”
– Eric Carpio, Past-President of CoCEAL (2013-14) & Chief Community Museum Officer, History Colorado