Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, dies at 63


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, speaks during an event in Spring 2018. Telles-Irvin passed away Monday after a “long and valiant battle” with cancer.

Gabby Birenbaum, Campus Editor

Patricia Telles-Irvin, Northwestern’s vice president for student affairs,  passed away early Monday morning after “a long and valiant battle” with cancer, University President Morton Schapiro said in an email. She was 63.

The El Paso, Texas native came to Northwestern in 2011 after serving in a similar role at the University of Florida. An alumna of Duke University and Boston University, Telles-Irvin was a first-generation college student in her family. She leaves behind a husband and a son.

“Patricia was a beautiful person,” Schapiro said in the email. “From the day she arrived at Northwestern, she was deeply committed to improving the lives of all of our students, especially those who came from underrepresented communities. She worked tirelessly to create a Northwestern in which every single student, regardless of background, felt at home. This is not easy work as the world became increasingly stratified and uncivil.

“When I think of Northwestern values — humility, empathy and humanity — I picture Patricia,” Schapiro continued. “She gave us her heart, and we will always be in her debt. She never wavered in finding the best in all of us.”

Schapiro had previously emailed the Northwestern community to inform students that Telles-Irvin had been granted a leave of absence beginning last Saturday.

Dean of Students Todd Adams highlighted some of Telles-Irvin’s accomplishments in an email to students, noting her “instrumental” role in establishing the department of Campus Inclusion and Community, the umbrella organization under which Student Enrichment Services and the department of Social Justice Education were launched. Continuing her work in “student-focused initiatives,” Adams said Telles-Irvin championed the creation of the Housing Master Plan and the expansion of the Summer Internship Grant Program.

“Patricia’s grace was, and continues to be, an inspiration to all of us who love working with students,” Adams wrote in the email. “Her influence stretched far and wide. And her legacy is demonstrated in the thousands of student lives she impacted, as well as the staff she mentored and the faculty she touched.”

Associated Student Government president Izzy Dobbel, who attended a Monday afternoon gathering for students and staff in the Source in Norris University Center, said Telles-Irvin was as a “true and constant partner” for the student body and served as a guide and mentor to ASG.

Julia Shenkman, who previously served as ASG’s chief of staff and the Multicultural Greek Council’s university liaison, agreed Telles-Irvin was a strong advocate. The Weinberg senior recalled Telles-Irvin reaching out to her to set up a meeting to talk about MGC’s struggles with feeling disenfranchised on campus, and called her one of their “best allies” who took the time to listen.

As a fellow El Pasoan, Shenkman said Telles-Irvin represented the character of their shared hometown.

“We stand with our own, we’re there for each other — that’s something our city is known for,” Shenkman said. “It was really great having that here on campus and it’s gonna be greatly missed.”

Leo Scheck, a Communication junior, said Telles-Irvin was a “vocal supporter” of student-workers like himself, and that she could be counted on to be a “strong and forceful” presence in any room.

Scheck said that in remembering Telles-Irvin, he was maintaining a focus on her accomplishments in improving student life at Northwestern, and the work she did on campus.

“She’s done a lot that maybe goes unnoticed or unattributed to her specifically,” Scheck said. “I just think this campus wouldn’t be the same without the mark that she’s made on it for the past eight or so years.”

Former co-workers and Northwestern alumni took to Twitter to express their appreciation for Telles-Irvin’s work. Angela Batista, the Board chair-elect of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, where Telles-Irvin once served as president, called the administrator a “trailblazer” for Latinx leaders in higher education. Sports journalist Christine Brennan (Medill ’80, ’81) said Telles-Irvin’s death made Monday a “sad day for all Wildcats”, and recalled having fun sitting next to her at the 2018 Big Ten Championship.

Former ASG president Ani Ajith (Weinberg ’14) tweeted that Telles-Irvin was a tireless worker whom he was proud to have known.

“She worked with deliberate, strategic patience to achieve more than many were willing to give her credit for,” Ajith tweeted. “She did so selflessly.”

Dobbel said the fact that Telles-Irvin continued to work until “almost the end” demonstrates how dedicated she was to her job.

In the years to come, Dobbel said Telles-Irvin’s legacy will continue.

“PTI is, and will always be, a big part of this campus,” Dobbel said.

A public Celebration of Life will be held in Telles-Irvin’s honor, Schapiro’s email said.

Cameron Cook contributed reporting.

This story was updated at 2:50 p.m. with information and a statement from Dean of Students Todd Adams. This story was updated again at 4:30 p.m. with comments from students, alumni and former co-workers.

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