Teacher and advocate of pride, hope and faith

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published April 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 19, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Veronikha Salazar is the new associate dean of students at Henderson State University. A native of Peru, Salazar said she was attracted to the university and Arkadelphia because of the friendly people she encountered when she was interviewing for the position. Those people reminded her of “the friendship and support found in a small town” and provided her with a level of comfort similar to that of her hometown.

— One of the newest members of the administration at Henderson State University feels comfortable in Arkadelphia, with its small-town America atmosphere, even though the city is very different from the hometown she knew as a child.

Veronikha Salazar, associate dean of students at Henderson State, grew up in Chiclayo, in northern Peru. She joined the Reddie Nation six weeks ago but was impressed with Arkadelphia from her first visit.

“During my interview, I was being shown around town, and people in the community would come up and tell me how glad they were to meet me. They said they looked forward to me being in town,” Salazar said. “I kept wondering how they knew I was a finalist. It made me remember the friendship and support found in a small town.”

Lewis Shepard, vice president for student and external affairs, said Salazar has done extensive work in recruitment, retention, student organizations and diversity.

“She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Henderson,” Shepard said when Salazar was hired in March. “Dr. Salazar will be instrumental in helping to create the Henderson Student Leadership Center, as well as overseeing the operations of the center.”

The Leadership Center was created at the university in 2010 to improve academic success and encourage student groups who have been historically less likely to graduate to stay in school through a program called the League Initiative. The League, Shepard said, works to promote academic and social success for students through networking and academic and professional-development programs.

The center also encourages the students to create effective student organizations and hold special events that give recognition to the student leagues on campus and in the community. The center’s organizations include the Gentlemen’s League and the Ladies League for African-American students; the League of Latinos; the Ambassadors program with the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Chamber of Commerce; and other student organizations.

While Salazar was born to a family whose roots have been in Peru since before the Incas, she has been an Arkansan for most of her adult life, moving to Northwest Arkansas after earning a bachelor’s degree in education in her home state of Lambayeque.

“My mother was Moche, and we spoke Kechwa at home,” Salazar said. “She had a great impact on me. She always advocated education to her children, and when we did our homework, she would sit down with us and tell us how good we were at our lessons. Only later did I find out she was illiterate.”

Her mother died when Salazar was still young, she said.

“My father was from the west coast of Peru and of more Spanish descent,” Salazar said.

“We were Catholic, and I learned Spanish mainly from the church,” Salazar said.

She also learned French and was studying languages in order to become a missionary in Africa, but in her last year of high school, she began talking to Baptist missionaries from Arkansas. Salazar joined the Baptist Church, and she was encouraged to come to the United States.

“I was translating for international mission boards, and they were there to talk to me while I was questioning and searching,” Salazar said. “I resisted coming to America, but a missionary would send books and stuff to me.”

However, it was heartbreak over a young man in Peru that finally convinced Salazar to join the missionary family in Rogers.

She considered the couple her American parents and even took an Americanized name for a while. She pursued a master’s degree in education at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. With the help of the missionaries, she became a naturalized U.S. citizen when she was 23.

“It was a culture shock,” Salazar said. “I didn’t drive, and I could not understand why I could not walk to see friends, or why there was no public transportation.”

Wanting to stay close to her friends and church, she remained in Fayetteville as she worked on a doctorate in education.

“I was encouraged to pursue a doctorate,” Salazar said. “I am not sure I knew what a Ph.D. was, but while I was there, I worked in the university’s multicultural center. I became coordinator of the Office of International Students and Scholars.”

To complete her degree, she returned to Peru to do an assessment of the Peruvian literacy program for women.

“I found it wasn’t working,” Salazar said. “After two years, most of the women could not do more than sign their names and count to 20. However, some told her that being able to sign for a ballot and take part in elections, even if they could not speak Spanish, empowered them.”

When she returned to Arkansas to complete her dissertation and send the results of her assessment to the government in Peru, she was given some important advice.

“My adviser said I should not just send the government the results, but to also do something to help,” Salazar said. “So, my brothers and sisters and I took some of our salaries and started a nonprofit family organization to provide literacy and computer training for women in Peru.”

Named for their mother, the Society

of Rosa Barrios-Llumto encouraged adult

women to study, just as Salazar’s mother had encouraged her children.

While the women learned to read and write, they were also encouraged to learn native crafts to sell, such as hat weaving, as her mother had done, or knitting and baking.

“My sisters paid for college by baking pies, so we wanted them to find a way to make money on their own,” Salazar said.

She and her siblings have developed their own careers, and they have turned over the running of the organization to her nieces, Salazar said.

“As we have turned things over to them, we are finding that the women are bringing their kids, and they learn to read together,” she said. “This is a new era for the society.”

Salazar said life in Arkansas has not always been all she had hoped it would be.

“I think sometimes I was used to show how the university or a group was diverse,” she said. “They were always eager to have my brown face seen in a picture.”

When serving as director of Hispanic Outreach and Retention at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., Salazar said, that is when she first discovered the diversity of the Hispanic communities in the U.S.

“It was a different experience for me,” she said. “I met Latinos from Mexico and other countries, and sometimes I felt I was not accepted by other Latinos because I could not talk about my crossing-the-border experience, or I didn’t have the same kind of cultural knowledge.”

Yet from that heartfelt awareness of the

diversity of the Latino community, Salazar has developed an outlook she hopes will help the students at Henderson. At HSU, the League of Latinos has students from Mexico, Central America and South America.

On Monday night, members of the organization invited their fellow students and the Arkadelphia community to a Salsa Night of learning the popular Latin American dance.

“We were all dancing, and someone said I was doing the Peruvian version of the salsa,” Salazar said, laughing. “The steps were the same, but everyone seems to make some of the moves differently.”

The new associate dean said she is happy to be at HSU.

“I could not have asked for a better place to work,” Salazar said. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Henderson students supporting their development — both personally and professionally.”

Chris Espinoza, president of the League of Latinos, said the organization, with Salazar’s help, is reaching out to the Hispanic students on campus and making sure they know they are not alone.

Salazar said she will enjoy telling others about the unique student members of the leagues.

“I intend to carry the Henderson spirit not only across the state,” she said, “but across the U.S. and across the world as well.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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