After twenty-three years at Bethel, our friend Ruben Rivera has decided to retire at the end of December. Before becoming the university’s chief diversity officer in 2014, Ruben served as a history professor, teaching courses like Latin American Civilizations, Minorities in America, Hispanic Christianity, and Christianity in Western Culture.
We’d love to hear from many of his former students in our comments section below or on social media, but to start our celebration of Ruben’s remarkable career, we’re happy to get things started with some reminiscences and reflections from colleagues — plus a few primary sources.
“Neil was the department chair when Ruben was hired, and from the first Ruben was a cheerful, flexible and hardworking member of the history department. But he was initially determined to hold on to his California identity. For Ruben, that meant elegant, smooth-soled shoes. We winced to see him slip and slide as he walked to his car during his first Minnesota winter. When Ruben broke down and bought solid, slog-through-the-snow boots, both Neil and Kevin Cragg were relieved. They had been afraid that Ruben would quit if he didn’t adjust to our serious winters.” (Neil and Virginia Lettinga)
“Ruben was the first of six colleagues that I welcomed to the department. I remember well his in-person interview and meeting Anita. I am grateful that they both braved Minnesota and stayed to serve so fruitfully the Bethel community and the Twin Cities. Ruben’s insight, compassion, and neat-as-a-pin office will be missed. Blessings on him and Anita as they embark on the next exciting chapter in their lives.” (Diana Magnuson)
“I was a CWCTA in the late 1990s when Ruben Rivera first came to Bethel and joined the CWC teaching team. From the very beginning he injected the course with his own point of view and teaching style. To me, Ruben was always a teacher who brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy into the classroom. He did fun, kind of gimmicky things like getting students to stand up and sing songs like “We Will Trent You” [click below] and “Evil is the Absence of Good.” More importantly, however, he never shied away from confronting students with really hard questions. He challenged students to take Catholic Christianity really seriously. He challenged them to view events which might seem frozen in the amber of history — like the American Revolution or 16th century peasant revolts — from multiple points of view. He cared for students, and he wanted to push them to think more deeply than they already were.
When I came back to Bethel to teach CWC with Ruben, he showed himself to be a really generous and supportive colleague. He definitely helped me to learn to be a teacher. He would spend time after class and after meetings talking with me and making me feel welcome on the teaching team. He was interested and invested in me and my development. And for that I cannot thank him enough.
In short, he was and will continue to be a really great teacher.” (Sam Mulberry)
“Encouraging Ruben to consider becoming Bethel’s chief diversity officer was one of my best ideas as department chair — and one of my worst. “Best” because Ruben has proven to be such an effective advocate in Bethel, its denomination, and the Twin Cities for diversity, shalom, and what he likes to call “remarkable Christianity.” (Here’s a post on those topics that he wrote last year.) “Worst” because it meant that I’d see less and less of one of the kindest, most irenic people I’ve known in academe. Ruben was generous enough to keep teaching a class or two in the History department, but even after the CDO job became too big to maintain a partial course load, he still brought a teacher’s patience and a historian’s empathy to his work as an administrator. In any role, he cared deeply for his students, his colleagues, and the mission of the church in the world. I’ll miss Ruben, but wish him and Anita grace and peace as they take on new challenges together.” (Chris Gehrz)
If you’d like to share your own words of recollection and reflection in the comments section below, we’ll make sure they get to Ruben.