HSI, DEIJ Director Maria Thayer wants ‘to develop better partnerships with our community’


Photo contributed by Maria Thayer

HSI and DEIJ Director Maria Thayer said, “My goal as the HSI and DEIJ Director is to develop better partnerships with our community.”

Kastenny Flores, Reporter

Last year Maria Thayer was named director of the Hispanic Serving Institution and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice programs and is the first to hold the title of these newly added positions at California Lutheran University. 

During a Zoom interview, Vice President of Talent, Culture and Diversity Christallea Buchanan said, “The university has made a commitment to make structural changes to show our commitment and one of them is making Maria’s position full-time. So she is a full-time HSI and DEIJ director, the previous person was half-time faculty and half-time director.”

Since many students at Cal Lutheran commute or come from different areas of Southern California, Thayer said it is essential to stay connected to this community. 

“My goal as the HSI and DEIJ Director is to develop better partnerships with our community. By community, I do not just mean Thousand Oaks but also Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Paula, Fillmore, but also the Valley,” Thayer said. 

Thayer comes from a Hispanic background, with both parents being from Michoacán, Mexico and her grandfather tracing back to being a part of the indigenous group of the Purépecha. The Purépechean tribe populated the northwestern part of Mexico, present-day Michoacán.

“I am very proud. That is something I learned a lot more about in college. That is why I am so happy that we have ethics and race studies here. College is a time for students to really discover themselves,” Thayer said.

The new director said that she is very passionate and continues to research the indigenous communities in Mexico. Thayer said she enjoys observing the comparisons and similarities between ancient Mayan and Aztec inventions and discoveries that are still seen and even used in the modern day.  

“The most important thing is traditions and to keep those alive. Now schools do a better job of having Dia de Los Muertos and Posadas, which I did not have in elementary school, which is a significant part of our culture,” Thayer said. 

Thayer also said she works hard to keep her culture and language alive for future generations. Being the child of first-generation immigrants, she finds spreading her family’s story important. 

“I was born and raised in Ventura County, specifically in Camarillo. I am a daughter of immigrants. My parents came here from Mexico in the ’70s. My grandfather was part of the Bracero Program in the ’40s and ’50s,” Thayer said. 

The Bracero Program was an agreement between the United States and the Mexican government to temporarily allow Mexican citizens to work in agriculture in the United States. 

“Maria was chosen from a very competitive recruitment. She has worked in both industry and educational academia. She also worked with International students in her last job. So her background, the life experiences that she brings, we felt that she could really fit into the component,” Buchanan said. 

Since Thayer’s position is relatively new to the Cal Lutheran campus, she has introduced several ideas such as farm workers’ rights and providing support for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAMers. Thayer also hopes to bring more awareness to the campus community’s different cultures and backgrounds.

“Maria is also involved in different communities on campus to ensure that equity and inclusion are a part of decision-making on campus,” Director of Student Support Services Elena Jaloma-Scott said. 

In 2003, Thayer worked in the Office of Admissions as an associate assistant director of admission. 

“When I was in high school, I started an Upward Bound program here at Cal Lutheran. The Upward Bound program is for high school students in the area,” Thayer said. 

The federally funded Upward Bound TRIO Pre-University program has been going for 30 years with the hopes of helping low-income first-generation high school students smoothly transition from high school to upper-division learning.

“Maria works with affinity groups on campus that support marginalized groups on campus. She also ensures that all cultures and groups have celebrations throughout a week or month,” Jaloma-Scott said.

Thayer completed her undergraduate degree at California State University, Northridge, majoring in psychology and minoring in Chicano studies. Later, Thayer completed her master’s degree at California State University, Channel Islands. 

“Right now I am currently working on my doctoral program here at Cal Lutheran University for educational leadership,” Thayer said.