Robert Palacios ’13
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Majors: Politics and clarinet performance, law and society minor
What’s it like being a double-degree student? I think double degree was the perfect choice for me. There are times when it can be demanding, but I've found that with proper time management and ability to balance multiple priorities, it is very manageable. Especially for students who enter Oberlin unsure of whether they want to pursue music professionally or go into a career in another field, I think it is a great opportunity because it allows you to explore various options and pursue multiple interests without having to sacrifice one for the other.
Why Oberlin? What first appealed to me about Oberlin was that is it one of the only schools of its caliber that encourages students to be in the double-degree program. Then, my senior year of high school, I was able to visit Oberlin through the Multicultural Visit Program, which was by far my best experience on a college visit. The more I learned about Oberlin, the more I knew I wanted to come here, and when I found out I was accepted, it was an easy decision.
What attracted you to your majors? For my conservatory major, it was something of a natural decision because I have been involved with music nearly my entire life, and knew that whether or not I decided to pursue music as a profession, I wanted to continue playing and learning about music. Thankfully, my college major was also an easy choice. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by politics and history. After taking some politics courses during my first year, I knew it was what I wanted to study.
How were you able to bring the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Oberlin? To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be! Perhaps because I’m from El Paso, which is directly across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the problems there are incredibly important to me, and I had been thinking of ways to raise awareness and get more people in Oberlin and surrounding communities interested and concerned as well. Last semester, I ran across an article about a presentation Mayor Reyes Ferriz (picture with Robert) had given at the University of Texas, and it included the contact information for the person responsible for organizing that event. I got in contact with her, and she was gracious enough to give the e-mail address of the mayor’s secretary, who then put me in contact with the mayor. Much to my surprise, he immediately agreed to come to Oberlin, and over the summer I met with him at his office in Ciudad Juarez to discuss the details of the visit. Once I had an official agreement, it was not hard to get support and funding from various academic departments and offices on campus. Probably the most time consuming part of the process was organizing all the details to make sure his visit was a good experience for all involved. However, I had support from many faculty and staff members, and I think we were able to make his September 20 visit a great success.
Tell me about the Peace of Art Exhibit and your part in it. Peace of Art is an exhibition organized by Sandra Salas, an incredible graphic designer and community activist originally from Ciudad Juarez. We brought it to Oberlin in conjunction with Mayor Reyes Ferriz’s visit. This past summer, Ms. Salas called for submissions from artists across the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez area that protested violence or called for peace. She received more than 90 posters, and the exhibition is becoming nationally and internationally recognized. The only thing I can take credit for is bringing Peace of Art to Oberlin. Everything else is the work of Sandra Salas and the artists who contributed to the project.
Why were you interested specifically in bringing the Peace of Art exhibit to Oberlin? After we had started to plan the event with Mayor Reyes Ferriz, I saw an advertisement for Peace of Art when I was in El Paso this summer. Although I was not in town to see its premiere, I got in contact with Ms. Salas, and she showed me several of the posters in the exhibition. I was fascinated, and immediately knew I had to involve Peace of Art with Mr. Reyes Ferriz’s event. I felt that having this exhibition at Oberlin would help to draw more attention to Ciudad Juarez. Having the mayor and the exhibition here at the same time would generate even greater interest, and the events would serve as great complements to each other.
Do you plan to help organize more events along these lines? Absolutely! The issues of the drug war in Mexico, and specifically in Ciudad Juarez, are incredibly important, and there are many more ways to raise awareness and involve people in the Oberlin community. There are no definite plans as of now, but some of my ideas include bringing Mr. Reyes Ferriz (who just finished his term as mayor and is now working for the International Development Bank in Washington, D.C.) back to Oberlin, organizing a winter term project in which students would travel to Ciudad Juarez to learn about the situation first hand, and bringing the second Peace of Art exhibition to Oberlin.
What has been your favorite event on campus? The number and variety of events on campus is truly amazing. I think the diversity and constant opportunities to learn and experience something new have been wonderful, and I don’t think I can really narrow it down to just one.
Are you involved in any student organizations or extracurricular activities? I am the co-treasurer and liaison of the forensics team, a member of La Alianza Latina, and a resident of La Casa Hispanica. I’ve performed in various chamber groups and large ensembles in the conservatory and currently work as student assistant in the Office of the President.
Who is the person who most influenced you, and how? I know this is going to sound incredibly cliché, but I have to say my family, especially my parents. Of course, we don’t see eye to eye on everything, but I know I’ve learned countless life lessons from following their example, as well as the importance of values such as work ethic and organization.
What is your proudest accomplishment? I don’t think I’ve earned the right to have one yet. That’s not to say I’ve never accomplished anything I’m proud of, but I always feel like I’m looking for new opportunities to use past accomplishments to help move toward a larger goal.
What inspires or re-energizes you? Reading, listening to music, eating good food, time with family and friends, achieving my goals, learning, traveling to new places, and above all, a good cup of coffee.
What three words best describe you? Energetic, determined, curious
Where do you eat on campus? I’m eating in Campus Dining Services, and my dining hall of choice is definitely Lord Saunders. But, I love to cook and have entertained the idea of joining a co-op, so it’s definitely something I’m thinking of in the future.
How did you spend your summer? This past summer I got to spend a month in Santiago, Chile, taking Spanish and history classes, and traveling to other parts of the country when I wasn’t in classes. I was also back in El Paso for part of the summer, and did an internship with an Oberlin grad who is a partner in a civil rights and employment law firm.
Little known fact about yourself? I love to cook and try new foods. There are very few things I won’t try at least once.
What advice would you give to first-years? Take advantage of all the opportunities available here. I know sometimes it can seem like there isn’t time to hear speakers and concerts and join student organizations, but if you work to make time, it’s definitely worth it.
What is your favorite place on campus? I’ll have to go with Peters, Spanish House, and just about anywhere on a sunny fall or spring day.
Is there a question I didn’t ask but that you wish I had? Yes. Ask me about my interest in different languages.
Sure, tell me about your interest in different languages. I have always spoken a little bit of Spanish, but when I got to Oberlin I became more and more interested in learning the language as well as possible, as well as more about the Spanish speaking world. Once I feel like I'm happy with my progress in Spanish, I hope to start learning another language, though I haven't decided which one yet. I think it's a great way to experience different cultures and get to know other parts of the world better than would be possible without speaking the local language.
Interview by Prerna Choudhury, an editorial assistant in the Office of Communications.
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