Challenging the norm

Activism inspires professor


Cathie Lawrence

Political Science Professor Iris Archuleta enjoys conversing with her students. She loves to challenge students to push through their academic boundaries.

While sitting in Professor Iris Archuleta’s Political Science 10 class, students become lost in her words. Her voice resonates through the room when she talks passionately about the Electoral College, the U.S. Constitution and civil rights. Before you know it there are only five minutes left of class, and she always ends by challenging students to do some in-depth thinking about the discussions they’ve just had.

In the 1960s, Archuleta moved from Texas to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco when she was young. At that time, the Haight was a blossoming multicultural community in which citizens embraced their freedom of expression, the power of peace, and the power of love among its people.

Her grandmother was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known as SNCC (pronounced “snick”), a group founded in North Carolina that was ignited by students who refused to leave a lunch counter when they were denied service because of the color of their skin. The committee spread across the south, and later throughout the country.

Her mother was an active member of the Black Panthers, a party that played a major role in the civil rights movement and was recognized as a radical group of black citizens.

“There was a sense of community and culture was so alive. Panthers would stand on the corner and ask everyone, ‘How are you? How are you doing?’ It was just a different time,” she said.

Archuleta recalls of Panther Party meetings at her home in the city being introduced to people like Otis Redding, a famous musician during the 1960s and Stokely Carmichael, a key member of the black power movement active in sit-ins, assemblies, and marches.

“The first need of a free people is to define their own terms,” Carmichael once said.

Although such noteworthy political activists and radicals surrounded her, she wasn’t inspired to get into law until she was 20 years old, interning at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco.

Archuleta’s job was to record the disposition of cases for probationers, working inside the courtroom all day.

“I was mesmerized by the legal system, and knew that I wanted to be a lawyer some day,” she said.

Archuleta had never seen a black lawyer until she saw Percer Meeks, head of Public Defense, while she was in court recording dispositions.

“I called my mom and said, that’s what I want to do,” she recalled.

Before Archuleta and her husband Keith started their company in 1992, Archuleta was an economic development professional. She spent most of those years working with Wells Fargo, the Minority Business Development Center, and Public Advocates Law Firm, and the Greenlining Coalition.

Today, Archuleta is co-founder with her husband, and Principal of Emerald HPC International, LLC. Her husband is the President of the company. She is also the architect of Emerald’s trademarked, High Performing Communities Framework (HPC).

“One of the things we are most proud of,” Archuleta said, “is that the US Trademark bureau has recently awarded us a trademark for our company’s framework.”

This seems to reflect their company’s mission of “Developing Whole People, Healthy Organizations and Sustainable Communities.”

In addition to her law degree from Kennedy University College of Law, Archuleta has an associate’s degree in communication from San Francisco City College and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State Hayward (now known as Cal State East Bay).

“Education has changed my life. It is impossible to really, really make an impact with your gifts and talents without education — to really, really push the envelope for success,” she said.

Archuleta displays this belief within her classroom, when she implores her students to challenge themselves not to settle and be engaged during class.

“Inform the world or it will inform you,” she said.

She started teaching political science at California State University, East Bay, Contra Costa College, and Diablo Valley College. This semester is her first at LMC.

“I really genuinely love LMC – it feels like family,” she said.

Archuleta’s company was working for LMC on its strategic plan when Vice President Kevin Horan, asked her to teach political science here.

Her company’s role was to look at and explore, goals and values, strengths and weaknesses of LMC, and to collaboratively look at the college’s goals for the future.

Critical stakeholders included representatives from faculty, students, and the community.

“My husband and I have really fallen in love with the students, staff, and curriculum at Los Medanos College,” she said.

Archuleta plans to continue teaching at LMC next semester. Among her favorite things about classroom teaching are engaging students, pushing to teach new material, and bringing the material to life.

“When you look at a student’s face and you can tell they understand the information, it’s like – yes,” she exclaimed.

Besides continuing her work at LMC, she has also been using skills with economic development work globally. In mid-year of 2015, Archuleta and new partner Carla Manard of Manard Law, will be launching a formal legal division.

“My plan is to focus my career on teaching and litigating,” she said.

For students interested in acquiring a law degree, Archuleta urges them to understand the realities of what it means to be a lawyer.

“Real lawyering is not like TV,” she said, “80 percent of the time is researching, analyzing and briefing. It’s more behind-the-scenes.”

Students should not choose to be a lawyer if they do not like sitting at a desk, reading, writing and doing lots of research.

Archuleta is the type of instructor who believes in her students. She wants students to challenge themselves, to not settle for someone else’s idea of success, and to push all academic boundaries.