Representing diversity and fighting for more equitable resources in schools

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Raul Marquez ’22

First-year student is among youngest candidates ever to run for Salem-Keizer School Board.

Raul Marquez ’22 is studying for finals this week, but he’s also knocking on doors — next fall, he might be representing northeast Salem on the Salem-Keizer School Board.

A first-year student who has yet to officially declare a major, Marquez is running to represent zone two, one of Salem’s most diverse districts. He’s running against incumbent Marty Heyen.

Marquez is the only Willamette student to run for public office as an undergraduate in recent memory. If he’s elected, he said, he’ll be the youngest ever to serve on that board and its first Latinx member.

From now until election day, May 21, whenever he isn’t doing schoolwork, he’ll be hitting the streets, calling donors and making public appearances.  “I think it’s important that I’m as accessible to people as possible,” he said.

Past informs present

Running a campaign at the tail end of your freshman year is a tall order, but Marquez is familiar with balancing school with service.

During his senior year at McKay High School, he served on the board for United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley and raised $412,000 for Taylor’s House, the first overnight youth shelter in the area. He also held the position of student body president and interned for Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland at the state legislature, a role he continues now. Last summer, he interned for Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, in Washington, D.C.

Serving his community is important because of the values his parents instilled in him, he said. Decades ago, they emigrated from Mexico — an uncommon decision that met family disapproval — to Oregon with no personal connections and no idea what to expect. Seasonal field work supported the family and relatives back home until his father started full time work at a meat processing plant. His mom stayed at home to raise seven children.

“It was a big sacrifice — they made sure they could provide us with the resources and skills we need to thrive in any situation,” he said. “My parents have always been there for us. We aren’t rich, but I never had to worry about whether I was going to miss the next meal or where to stay.”

Finding a future at Willamette

Marquez, a graduate of Willamette Academy, told local newspapers he’s running for school board to add diversity in representation, reduce class sizes and increase graduation rates. 

Marquez also believes in expanding career and technical education to make sure students land better jobs after high school or better prepare them to enroll in a four-year university or college, just like he did.

Though he initially wanted to avoid the longtime practice of attending the same school as his siblings — sister Cristina graduated from Willamette in 2015 and another sister, Diana, graduates next year — and start over at a new college, Willamette’s location across from the state capitol is hard to beat, he said.

Ten weeks in D.C. last summer also gave him a glimpse of how it feels to be far from home. He realized he missed his family and could still manage to live his own life in the same town, he said.

At Willamette, he’s invested his time in only a few extracurricular activities to maintain a sane schedule — Alianza, Willamette Events Board, intramural volleyball and soccer club — and remains committed to the campaign, which consumes 15-20 hours of his time each week.

“There’s been days where I’m extremely exhausted, but then I think about why I’m doing this,” he said. “It’s important for people to have a voice and receive representation at the school board. It’s definitely worth it.”

Next year, he intends on pursuing the new politics, policy, law and ethics major as well as sociology. He’s grateful for the experiences he’s had at Willamette so far and he’s excited for what’s to come, he said.

“Now that I’m here, It’s hard to imagine myself anywhere else.”

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