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Remembering Dr. Raul D. Tovares


Raul TovaresDr. Raul Tovares, Associate Professor of Communication

Students, faculty, staff and friends gathered with the family of Dr. Raul Tovares on Saturday afternoon in the Main Hall Chapel to celebrate his life and remember his many contributions to students and colleagues.  Dr. Tovares died on July 9, 2019 after battling several serious illnesses.  During the service, Raul’s wife Alla, his brothers Michael and Joseph, shared memories in beautiful tributes along with students and friends including Dr. Tovares’ closest Trinity colleague Dr. Jamey Piland of the Communication Program.

In tribute to Dr. Tovares, we will rename the annual speech contest that he founded as the Dr. Raul Tovares Speech Contest and this will give us an annual occasion to remember his fine work in teaching and scholarship as well as advocacy for social justice.

Born in San Antonio, Raul was the eldest son in a family deeply steeped in Mexican culture.  According to his brother Joseph, Raul demonstrated a flair for media and communication early on when, in his senior year of high school, he created an underground newspaper at his school that criticized the school administration, gaining him expulsion just three months away from graduation.  Unfazed, Raul finished high school and won admission to the University of Texas at Austin where he earned a degree in Psychology.  Yearning to learn more about his Mexican heritage he moved to Puebla, Mexico, to earn a master’s degree in Intercultural Psychology at the Universidad de las Americas.

Fifteen years and several jobs later, he returned to the elite Communication program at the University of Texas at Austin to earn his Ph.D. in Radio-TV-Film.  His first academic teaching position was at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks where, fortunately, he met Alla, soon his fiance who was moving east to Washington to study at Georgetown University.  Raul followed Alla, which was really Trinity’s great gain as well!  He joined Trinity’s faculty in the Year 2000 and Raul and Alla married shortly thereafter in Trinity’s Notre Dame Chapel.

When he joined Trinity’s faculty in the Year 2000, Dr. Tovares brought a rich background intersecting his academic interests in communication and journalism, but also his deep personal and professional concern for issues affecting the Latino community, Mexican culture, and issues in the American southwest.  He loved films of all kinds and never tired of critiquing movies both famous and obscure.  As a member of the Communication Program here, he revitalized the student newspaper, and soon took it into the digital platform.  He mentored students who sought careers in communication and journalism.  He cared deeply about developing in Trinity students the ability not only to think critically but also to speak persuasively; his development of the speech contest became an annual tradition that students have valued tremendously.

Raul’s commitment to academic and scholarly excellence is clear in the many books, papers and articles he wrote, his Fulbright Fellowship and other fellowships and awards, and his engagement with professional organizations in the communication and journalism fields.  He was equally a staunch advocate for social justice, and in particular, his advocacy for Dreamers and support for our DACA students was unwavering.  Students, faculty and staff all remember him as a rigorous teacher who was also caring and compassionate, generous and kind.

Following is the tribute that senior Sabrina Ortiz-Santos gave at Dr. Tovares’ memorial service:

Tribute to Dr. Raul Tovares by Sabrina Ortiz-Santos ’20

Before writing something for today, I thought about the different ways and approaches that I could take to describe how Professor Tovares impacted me as a student. However, I decided that I wanted to take the time to reach out to a few of my classmates who also took him, and I asked them what are some words that they would use to describe who he was as a Communications Professor and as a person.

Some of the words that my fellow Trinity sisters used include: dedicated, understanding, passionate, resourceful, funny, relentless, and encouraging.

Professor Tovares was a someone who cared deeply for the Communications field. I know this to be true because I, alongside many other students had the opportunity of seeing how he worked, but more specifically how he taught. He always stressed the importance of being able to speak in front of an audience and to deliver one’s message efficiently.

The very first class that I took with Professor Tovares was Public Speaking. Looking back, I used to be a very shy student. However, it was Professor Tovares who taught me that the fear of speaking in front of others will never fully go away, BUT that I could work on using my fear to my advantage. I cannot express how much that has helped me in my career. Because that is exactly what I am doing right now.

Being his student for three years since sophomore year, I truly saw how much he cared about different areas of Communication such as Journalism, Mass Communications, Public Speaking and Speechwriting (just to name a few). He valued incorporating his lessons from class to real life. He did this with the Public Speaking Contest which has taken place every year since I began my studies at Trinity in 2016.

As I mentioned before, I used to be very shy. And it is still challenging to get in front of a large audience and to speak to them, but also to keep their attention. Which is another skill that Professor Tovares took his time to help his students develop. One of the ways that I would describe Professor Tovares would be that he was a supporter. Not only did he encourage me to deliver one of my speeches for the Public Speaking Contest in 2017, but he was also there supporting me every step of the way as I prepared to speak for the first time in front of others at a University level. I will be honest, I did not do well. I froze.

Despite that, Professor Tovares still gave me the motivating words that what happened to me could happen to anyone, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I look back at that moment now, and I saw myself as a failure back then. Professor Tovares told me that I was not. As a Latina, and 1st generation college student his words left a mark on me. Not only do I fight for my future, but I fight for my family’s future. Which is why I don’t take failure lightly. But because I was able to have the support from a Latino professor, someone that I could relate to, that alone meant so much. Because of that failure, and what Professor Tovares told me I have realized that failure is needed to not only learn, but to grow.

Another reason why I valued having a Latino professor is because I remember feeling very comfortable in class that I would sometimes code switch between English and Spanish, and as we say in Spanish, Professor Tovares me “seguia la corriente”… To translate that saying… he would also speak and respond in Spanish without hesitating.

The fact that he always allowed his students to share and connect their personal experiences to class discussions was and will always be special.

This is who Professor Tovares was. He was there for his students. There was never a day where he arrived late, or canceled class. He was a firm professor who gave his time and expected the same in return. He was always available to help his students, and he made time outside of class in order to do so. You could really tell that he loved teaching, and as his student, I am humbled to have been able to have him as a Professor, and as a mentor.

Dr. Jamey Piland, Associate Professor of Communication, Tribute to Dr. Raul Tovares

It is an honor and privilege to stand before you today to pay tribute to Dr. Tovares, my esteemed colleague, my friend.

I am Jamey Piland, Communication Program chair here at Trinity Washington University.

For 18 years our offices were next to each other. I saw him every day.

Raul was a dedicated scholar, teacher, and advocate.  He shared his passion for media studies, research on the significance of cultural lenses, and film in his teaching and with his students.   His research and his scholarly involvement in Latino media studies informed his work.  He brought the high value that he placed on family and his strong work ethic as part of the Tovares family culture to everyday practices.

Raul was an accomplished scholar recognized for his contributions as a Latino author. You may not know that his master’s degree from the Universidad de las Americas in Pueblo Mexico was in Cultural Psychology.  He then became an academic rock star attaining his Ph.D. from one of our most elite communication schools, the University of Texas at Austin in Radio-TV-Film.

A Fulbright scholar, Dr. Tovares received fellowships from the Radio Television News Directors Foundation, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and the Poynter Institute. He remained an active member of the National Communication Association (NCA) and the Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

Raul was an extremely passionate and dedicated scholar and teacher.  He was committed to excellence in teaching, and he required the best and most from his students while guiding them through their process to learning and success.  He was always in his office, light one, door slightly ajar.

When Brad Mello and I interviewed him for a tenure track position at Trinity he was an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota.  After he was hired Brad and I took him out to Zentaya’s … first question, you are rock star, why do you want to come here?  In his quiet smile and Raul humor he said, I’m from
San Antonio — it is freezing in North Dakota…still!!   We all laughed.  Then he said — actually, my fiancé Alla was accepted to Georgetown to study with Deborah Tannen, so I was hoping to work in the same vicinity. He followed with, And I’m committed to lifting students up who might not otherwise get a break.  Trinity seems committed to that as well.

Most people will tell you that Raul was diligent and thorough, an academically rigorous professor, very kind and polite to a fault.  Yet, he was also very funny.  Over the years, he would come in my office and say do you have a second, so I would believe something serious had come up, some important administrative task. He would sit down and share a story, a situation, most of the time self-deprecating humor about something that had happened in class or at a conference.  We would laugh and laugh, and it always made my day better, and a little humbler.

During the years he had two very serious life-threatening illnesses.  Both of these changed his life and the lives of those around him.   I admired his perseverance; I admired his positive outlook for meeting each day as it came.  It was during those very difficult times that I was grateful for the opportunity to share with him how important he was to me, my family, and the department.  His health struggles changed him and allowed him to take an approach to everyday tasks with such ease and understanding about the truly important moments in life.  When I was stressed or worried, I would come and vent about my concerns, and he would listen and have me laughing before I left the office.  He would constantly tell me not to sweat the small stuff.

I had the honor of attending his wedding celebration to Alla here at Trinity. I had the great fortune to meet his entire family.  While sharing offices next to each other we talked of our families, vacations, and simple things.  Alla, I always loved hearing him answer his phone at the end of the day – greeting you – and telling you he was on his way to pick you up at Howard.  He was always so clear about how much he adored and cherished you.   And to the Tovares family – he was always so proud of his family and his background.  I know the great story of your parents everlasting love; I know the challenges and incredibly diverse success you have all had.   I know this because Raoul never missed an opportunity to talk about his parents when they were alive and when they passed, and he was always proud to talk about the successes of his siblings.

For 18 years we had the honor to know him, laugh with him, cry with him and share his love for simple things.

So, to Maria, Joseph, Carolos, Michael and especially to Alla, thank you for giving us this opportunity to honor Raul.  Please know his vision of advocacy will remain here at Trinity. We will keep in our heart always, and I will miss him every day. May God Bless you.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: