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In Memoriam: Ray Buriel, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Chicana/o Latina/o Studies

Ray Buriel teaching in front of a chalkboard.

Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Chicana/o Latina/o Studies Raymond Buriel passed away on June 21, 2017. He was 68 years old.

A native of Riverside, Calif., he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967-69 before attending Riverside City College where he earned his associate’s degree. He attended UC Riverside where he received his bachelor’s, master’s, and ultimately his Ph.D. in psychology in 1977 before joining the faculty of The Claremont Colleges.

A beloved mentor and inspiring educator, Buriel joined Pomona College in 1977 as a visiting assistant professor and was hired as the first tenure-track faculty member of Chicano Studies with a joint appointment in the Psychology Department, becoming the founding chair of the Intercollegiate Department of Chicano Studies. He was the Harry S. and Madge Rice Thatcher Professor of Psychology and served as Associate Dean of the College from 1994-1997. He retired in 2016.

Buriel was a two-time recipient of the Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1991 and 2007. He was also a Tomás Rivera Center for Policy Studies scholar from 1986 to 1993 and worked with UC Riverside’s NICHD Families First Project since 1997. Among his other accomplishments, he was a recipient of the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation Faculty Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Internship and General Education Grant and a PEW Science Program Grant. He was among the earliest and most ardent advocates for diversity initiatives at Pomona College, serving on a number of committees and task forces and establishing himself as an indispensable mentor to diverse groups of faculty, staff and students.

A passionate advocate for Chicana/o studies, Buriel’s research focused on the acculturation and adjustment of Mexican immigrant families, with a special emphasis on the characteristics of immigrants that are conducive to success in the U.S. His work appeared in several book chapters and scholarly journals and he served on the editorial boards of the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences and Parenting: Science and Practice. His latest research explored the psychological development of children who serve as interpreters for their immigrant parents. He referred to these children as “cultural brokers” because they interpret for their parents both the language and culture of their new society. This research included nuanced cultural linguistic analysis of language these parents used to describe their children’s roles and reinforced earlier research he conducted demonstrating tendencies for high academic achievement and responsibility among immigrant children.

Buriel once shared that in 1977, when he was a visiting assistant professor, three Latina students asked him to supervise their senior theses, a task previously assigned only to tenure-track faculty members. Based in part on the strong recommendations of these students, the College hired Buriel as an assistant professor in Chicano studies and psychology. He remained inspired and encouraged by the initiative and influence of student leadership at Pomona College, which he fostered and nurtured in his work in the classroom and in all his interactions with students.

Students who nominated Buriel for the Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2007 referred to him as “both a professor and a mentor for his students,” and commented on his sense of humor, his helpfulness and his likeability. One student noted that of all her professors, Professor Buriel was “the most invested in teaching his subject. More than one student indicated that he altered their career paths with his inspirational teaching style and one indicated that he “changed the way that I think about issues of diversity in education and psychological research in general… His class opened my eyes to present-day inequalities and inspired me to dedicate my own life to changing the status quo.”

Professor Buriel was likewise respected, admired and beloved by his colleagues:

“I first met Ray as a prospective student on a campus visit to Pomona College… For 30 years since then, Ray has been a consistent, steadying presence in my life. Ray was highly effective in the classroom, but his impact was even greater outside of the classroom as a mentor, colleague, and friend. He was always teaching and sharing life lessons or consejos, often through short anecdotes that he would tell and retell with great frequency. He offered these lessons with humility, respect, and without condition or expectation. He was kind, patient, understanding, and gentle in his disapproval. He was family. He will be missed immensely. How I wish I could have one more lunch with him in Frank Dining Hall to listen to his anecdotes and consejos.” James L. Rodriguez '91, professor of child and adolescent studies, CSU Fullerton.

“The very first Chicano Studies course I ever took was ‘Psychology of the Chicano’ taught by Ray Buriel as a student in the early 90s. His class was like a homecoming to me: he looked and sounded like the people I knew and loved. We read and learned about our communities, our families, and ourselves. It felt so amazing to be in a room of college learning where our experiences were front and center. Ray Buriel was an amazing teacher. He knew what he was providing and creating for us and he did so with gentle excitement, with critical skill, and with a sense of love. Needless to say, it has been one of the great honors of my life to have had the chance to join the department he so capably built, and to be a colleague of his and the other members of the IDCLS family.” Tomas Summers-Sandoval, associate professor of history and Chicano/a Latino/a Studies, Pomona College.

“People who are talented, compassionate, smart, generous, and wise have a way of instilling confidence and encouragement in those around them simply by occupying space; no need to flex their muscles, they just ‘be.’ Twenty years at Pomona College seems like, and is, quite a long time and it might not seem like someone who has been at an institution for 20 years has 'elders.' I do. I did. When I arrived, there were a cadre of faculty and staff who looked out for me. They rarely, if ever, had to flex their political muscle on my behalf. But knowing they were here and doing the work instilled an immeasurable amount of confidence and encouragement. Ray Buriel was one of those people for me. And I know he was that person, and much, much more, for the scores of students, faculty, and staff who, like me, had the incredibly good fortune to call him a colleague and a friend.” Daren Mooko, vice president for student affairs and Dean of Students, Whitman College.

“As has he did for so many people, Ray Buriel helped me feel like I belonged as a professor and at Pomona College. I started my tenure track position in the Intercollegiate Department of Chicano/a Studies and Sociology in 1997, and moving from graduate student to professor was not easy. As a new faculty member, convocations and graduations can be especially intimidating. While lining up for my first Pomona College graduation, Ray removed the Chicana/o-Latina/o graduation stole he wore around his neck and gently placed it around mine. That stole and Ray's kind gesture represented a warm and genuine welcome from a much admired colleague. It was just one of numerous transformative actions exhibited by Ray — from the building of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies to everyday forms of care — that have helped to make space for so many of us. His memory lives on in a thriving Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies Department and in the thousands of lives he has influenced. As I have done for the past 20 years, I proudly wore his stole at this last graduation.” Gilda Ochoa, professor of sociology and Chicano/a Latino/a studies, Pomona College. 

“Ray was the role model for so many Faculty of Color who came behind him.  If I am not mistaken, that means EVERY faculty of color on campus.  We just adored him!! His grace and his brilliance leave a legacy for his students who have and who will continue to go on to do ‘the work’.” Associate Dean of the College and Professor of Neuroscience Nicole Weekes, Pomona College.

Buriel leaves behind his wife Linda, his son Juan Ramon and his daughter Cheli.

Pomona College will host a celebration of Professor Buriel’s life at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Bridges Hall of Music (150 E. 4th Street, Claremont, CA 91711). 

In honor of Professor Buriel, the Buriel family is asking for donations to the Moores Cancer Center.