CSU’s Mary Ontiveros to retire after 45 years on campus

Ceci Taylor

A prominent figure in the Colorado State University community will retire at the end of the calendar year. 

Mary Ontiveros, who has worked for years as Colorado State University’s vice president for diversity, will retire after decades of work on campus.

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It wasn’t unusual to have really in-depth conversations about the issues of the day and to be able to articulate why we felt the way we felt.” -Mary Ontiveros, vice president for diversity

According to Academic Impressions, Ontiveros’ job includes developing strategic alliances and partnerships and leading diversity planning efforts.

“An alumna of CSU, (Ontiveros) has served in leadership positions including executive director of admissions, an affiliate faculty member in the School of Education and as associate vice president in the Division of Enrollment and Access,” the website reads. “She chairs numerous University committees, councils and task forces aimed at advancing an institutional agenda for inclusive excellence.”

Ontiveros has worked at CSU for 45 years but has been involved with CSU since she became a student 51 years ago.

Ontiveros said she originally came to CSU to study science and that she wanted to stay in state as she had to pay for college by herself. 

“There were six kids in the family,” Ontiveros said. “I had to find lots of different work on campus. But staying in the state was an important consideration.”

Ontiveros said she loved meeting people at CSU and sharing her culture with them. 

“I was one of those people who liked informing others about my history and about what that meant,” Ontiveros said. “There were very, very few of us on campus. And it was interesting to see their responses and their reactions. It allowed for really good discussions.”

Ontiveros said she’s lived through some memorable moments at CSU, including anti-war riots, the floods and now the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that while these aren’t happy times, she liked conversing with others at the University.

“It wasn’t unusual to have really in-depth conversations about the issues of the day and to be able to articulate why we felt the way we felt,” Ontiveros said. “We could still come away being friends.”

Ontiveros said that the political climate at CSU has changed over the time she’s spent here, and she feels that it’s now more difficult to ask questions and hold political conversations. 

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“You’re almost wondering, ‘Is this somebody I should even approach?’ or ‘Should I talk to them?’” Ontiveros said. “I don’t remember that being a part of my experience as an undergraduate, even though I was against the war, and there were people who were in favor of the war; we would have important conversations about that. So I really enjoyed those conversations.”

Ontiveros also talked about the way CSU has changed regarding diversity and said when she was an undergraduate, CSU had just introduced a program to bring more students of color onto campus. 

“The University has been trying to change the complexion of campus for many, many, many years,” Ontiveros said. “There are various institutions who are just now getting started — all I want to say is that the University has been involved in this work for a long time.”

“It’s having introduced those kinds of programs and having made a difference in policies and procedures at the University, … I will miss that. I will miss my role in those kinds of activities.” -Mary Ontiveros, vice president for diversity

Ontiveros also acknowledged that things have changed and much work still has to be done, but she wants students to realize that work for diversity and social justice at CSU is not a new phenomenon.

“The University has been trying to do this kind of work for a little while,” Ontiveros said. “But it takes leadership, and there were times when the leaders on campus didn’t particularly subscribe to the same kind of urgency. I think over time, there has been a difference in that way.” 

Ontiveros said that she will miss the people and the experiences they have given her the most when she leaves CSU. 

“I think the University has individuals on campus who are absolutely committed and passionate about a couple of issues that are important to me,” Ontiveros said. “Student success is one, and access to higher education is another. (They’re) really trying to break down systems that inhibit individual people from feeling that they aren’t included.”

Ontiveros said that she worked as executive director of admissions early on in her career and created programs that granted better access for students. She said she was later able to talk to people who told her they wouldn’t have been able to graduate if it weren’t for these programs. 

Ontiveros spoke on a time she received a book years ago with a note from a parent.

“The parent said, ‘You gave my son a chance, and this is a book that he has written, and without you giving him a chance and believing (in) him, he would not have been successful,’” Ontiveros said. “It’s having introduced those kinds of programs and having made a difference in policies and procedures at the University, … I will miss that. I will miss my role in those kinds of activities.”

Leslie Taylor, vice president for enrollment and access and a coworker of Ontiveros, wrote in an email to The Collegian about some of Ontiveros’ achievements. 

“One of the most impactful initiatives (Ontiveros) has spearheaded is the creation of the Principles of Community,” Taylor wrote. “To many, assembling a group of 50 volunteers to discuss and define what it means to be part of the CSU community might sound like a daunting and undesirable task; to Mary (Ontiveros), it was imperative.”

Ontiveros’ work has become a part of CSU culture and has even made an impact statewide with the establishment and leadership of the Colorado Chapter of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, Taylor wrote.

“Her strong convictions and passions, her vast knowledge and experience, her calm demeanor and her experience and her fierce tenacity to make things better — and right — have impacted every campus in Colorado,” Taylor wrote.

Ontiveros said she considers CSU a university of opportunity. She said attending CSU changed her life as well as the lives of her siblings and son.

“There was now an expectation that he would go to college,” Ontiveros said. “So my entire family has been influenced by my decision to stay on campus and to graduate, even though it was not always easy.”

Ontiveros said there were reasons not to, but she is glad she had the opportunity to stay at CSU.

“When I think of CSU, I think of opportunity and then trying to provide those opportunities to other folks as well,” Ontiveros said.

Ceci Taylor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @cecelia_twt.