Our Sad Loss of Isabel S. Perez-Yanez,
Social Work and Sociology Lecturer
Article by Rose Wong, January 22, 2018
"Isabel, as a community activist, your voice rang clear challenging the inequities of this system, speaking to those that would hear of the need of healing and tearing down the harmful institutions that brought so much pain into our families and communities… Isabel, your relentless energy to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised communities of color, with a message of hope and empowerment gave the courage to many to make a change… Isabel, as a teacher sharing your knowledge and experience to the up and coming students, you prepared them to take their roles as agents of change, for the next generations and the future …”
– Debra Camarillo, Executive Director, The Latino Commission
Professor Yanez suffered a cardiac arrest at the end of a class, and five MSW students courageously and quickly provided and obtained emergency care for her. She was hospitalized and released but subsequently suffered another cardiac arrest and passed away on January 16, 2018. Her daughters, Gina Hernandez and Barbara Furtado, came to campus to personally thank the five students, Kaye Hudson, Sonja Jackson, Rona Tenorio, Jessica Reyes, and DeVante Jewett for rendering assistance to Professor Yanez. In the daughters’ words, “They did all the right things. They saved our mother’s life so that we could be with her for a little longer. We are very thankful. We are also thankful for the outpouring of love and support from all the students.”
Professor Yanez’s professional history began with working as a community activist on issues critical to the welfare of Latino American communities in the 1970s. She was a founding member of the Latino Conference Committee of The Latino Commission (TLC) and also a workshop presenter in the Commission’s first Central Valley Latino Conference. Originally from Visalia, California, Professor Yanez prided herself in understanding the strengths and experiences of the Central Valley and sought opportunities to share statewide resources with her hometown area. Along with her formal education from U.C. Berkeley, with undergraduate degrees in Social Welfare and Ethnic Studies/Chicano Studies and a master’s degree of Public Health, she proudly identified her strengths from her farmworker mother’s experiences, and her family’s experiences as business owners running a Volkswagen repair shop for 27 years. She also acknowledged respect for cultural values and her foundation of being raised in a close, strong Mexican-American family.
Professor Yanez was also a well-known statewide consultant and trainer with over 25 years of administrative and direct practice experience in public health, education, and social services. She worked in the areas of gang and domestic violence, prevention and intervention, diverse populations, teen pregnancy, perinatal health, and the many issues related to substance abuse and culturally responsive services, especially with the Latino population. With credentials as a Certified Health Education Specialist and a Certified Addictions Treatment Educator, she was involved in many community projects, including with TLC and Terra Firma. As an integral part of TLC for the last 15 years, she taught courses in its former alcohol and drug certification program sponsored by the College of San Mateo and offered at the Commission’s Outpatient Facility, a bilingual and bicultural setting, which was the first of its kind. Professor Yanez also developed training curriculum for statewide trainings for ONTRACK Program Resources’ Community Alliance for Culturally & Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), U.C. Davis Extension’s Northern California Academy, State Corrections, California Hispanic Commission on Alcohol and Drugs, school districts, county human service agencies, and community-based programs. In addition, she provided technical assistance on program services, development, and planning. Along with teaching for Cal State East Bay, she also taught at the College of San Mateo in the Alcohol and Other Drug Certificate Program over the past seven years, and U.C. Davis Extension for five years.
At Cal State East Bay, Professor Yanez was known for building deep, lasting relationships with her students, along with her excellence in teaching. According to Rose Wong, chair of the Social Work Department, “Professor Yanez pursued and demonstrated educational excellence. It’s no wonder that she was nominated for the university’s Phillips Outstanding Professor Award last year. She always sought new ways of teaching and new teaching materials so that her work was effective and inspiring. She also personally coached me to teach Race, Gender and Inequality when I first taught it, with my own development and our students’ interests in mind. Professor Yanez was also unparalleled in engaging with our students.” Peggy Aravelo, lecturer and longtime colleague of Professor Yanez said, “Isabel enjoyed meeting with her students after class very much, and would often freely share her concerns with them.” Carl Stempel, chair of the Sociology Department added, “Many of Isabel's students feel a special connection with her because she mentored them and helped shape their professional goals. They know she cared deeply about their success and growth.”
Maira Perez, a current MSW student, described her relationship with Professor Yanez:
It hurts very deeply knowing that I won’t be able to express myself in person like I did many times right after your class lectures… I will never forget the first day I met you… You were full of energy and extremely understanding to many of your students, including myself, who were the first ones in their families to pursue a higher education. You brought a sense of calmness and determination that we were capable of pursuing all of our life goals. It was in that moment that we fully connected. We were both teen mothers at one point of our lives and we both used our life struggles to pursue an education around justice and equality … Thank you for never giving up on me and for always pushing me to challenge myself … for always being so kind and transparent … [and] for always suggesting that end of the quarter class picture . . .
Cal State East Bay held a Commemoration for Professor Yanez on Monday, February 5, 2018, with her brother Joseph Perez, daughters Gina Hernandez and Barbara Furtado, and grandchildren present. The Cal State East Bay community expresses its deep gratitude to Professor Isabel Yanez for how she shaped the lives of so many of our students in such positive ways and inspired every one of us with whom she came into contact.