By Tatum Mitchell | Staff Writer
Dr. Elizabeth Palacios — special assistant to the vice president of student life for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging — said she would only work at Baylor University for one year. She stayed for 40.
“What happened is that I fell in love with working with college-aged students,” Palacios said. “I also fell in love with all the possibilities that students go through.”
Palacios has been in a number of positions at Baylor, being the first at many. She began as a student, went on to become the dean for student development and is retiring from her current position in May.
“I’ve been the first to do a lot of things,” Palacios said. “Even in the School of Education, I was the only Latina professor for over 10 years. I’ve been the first or the only at basically everything I’ve done. I’ve been excited about that. I love that I was able to leave my footprints and have an impact on different things that we still continue to do.”
Palacios’ daughter, Baylor First in Line program manager Michelle Gonzalez, serves the first-generation student population. Since Palacios graduated as a first-generation student, Gonzalez said her parents inspired her and were the trailblazers of their family.
“She has been able to overcome and continue on in her journey and make that difference,” Gonzalez said. “She’s an inspiration. I think she’s a testament of what can be achieved when we do support and empower our faculty and staff with that lens of recognition and doing so for faculty, staff and students of color.”
Palacios said it’s important to invest in students because in her experience, the faculty and staff who believed in her made a difference. Palacios said she is compelled to teach people that being different is not negative; rather, different perspectives and diversity are a positive thing.
“It’s been an amazing journey at Baylor,” Palacios said. “Baylor has changed in many good ways. In some ways, it hasn’t changed; in some ways, it’s getting there. My whole thing has been because I didn’t feel like I belonged when I was here [as an undergraduate], I wanted to make sure that any Baylor student would know that Baylor was their home and that they belong here.”
Palacios said with the help of staff and faculty support, she was able to see herself in a whole new perspective of capability. Dr. Mito Diaz-Espinoza is a case coordinator in the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office at Baylor. Diaz-Espinoza was a former student of Palacios. He said she has always been an advocate for helping and celebrating others.
“Sometimes, especially underrepresented students can be a little shy or timid or not feel as if they belong,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “She always made sure that not only do they feel like they belong, but feel like Baylor was home.”
Gonzalez and Diaz-Espinoza said Palacios’ impact at Baylor will continue. With her upcoming retirement, Palacios said she hopes to continue teaching, counsel a few clients, spend time with her grandchildren and write a book.
“I really do want to have some time to write,” Palacios said. “One of my bigger goals is to write a book about higher education and serving underrepresented students. That’s been a passion of mine forever.”
Diaz-Espinoza said personally, he is excited for Palacios and her next steps; however, professionally, he said her retirement is a loss.
“There are very few Latinos, and she’s the only one in a leadership role,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “So with her loss, there’s going to be no Latinos in leadership roles in student life, which is a very big deficit for Baylor to have.”
The director for the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities (BCDD), Dr. Kristen Padilla, was a former student and is a current coworker of Palacios. Padilla said Palacios is someone she is inspired by.
“As someone from Mexican descent, it was very eye-opening, encouraging and inspiring to see someone else of Mexican descent — especially a female with a doctoral degree in teaching — at a university,” Padilla said. “It was kind of the first time I thought that ‘Oh, maybe this is something I could do as well.’”
Palacios said her driving force has been helping students become who God has made them to be. She said despite others’ preconceived notions about her, it has always been a priority for her to celebrate the fact that God made everyone unique and diverse.
Gonzalez, Padilla and Diaz-Espinoza said that Palacios is an amazing woman and that they are proud of all she has done.
“Ultimately, I am grateful for her, and I am proud of her,” Gonzalez said. “I know that she has made a difference in thousands of lives in her 40 years here. So while I think she will be missed, I don’t think she could leave on a better note as far as the impact she’s made and the love that she’s poured into Baylor. So just a big congratulations to Dr. Liz Palacios; we love you, and we will continue your work forward.”
Palacios said she is confident in the people she is leaving her work with. She said she is starting the Robert and Elizabeth Palacios endowed scholarship fund in her husband’s memory and her retirement.
“There’s a lot of heroes — heroes that are just amazing — and they work tirelessly,” Palacios said. “So I’m not stepping down, and I’m not giving up. I’m leaving [this] in very competent hands and people that have amazing spirits and courageous, just courageous ideas of how we can make Baylor better.”