Meet Learning Commons Dean Eric Camarillo

Eric Camarillo, the new Dean of Learning Commons at TCC Northwest, grew up with a strong affinity for words that carved out a path for him in higher education.

After graduating from the University of Houston Victoria with a master’s degree in English and an emphasis in creative writing, Camarillo found himself embedded in a publishing program, followed by an assortment of other roles in academic support: SI Peer Tutoring Coordinator, manager of testing and tutoring, Director of Learning Commons at Harrisburg Area Community College and eventually, after amassing no small amount of experience, Dean of Learning Commons at TCC Northwest.

Throughout his career as a student and a professional, Camarillo has maintained an untraditional quality for those in his field (aside from composing a master’s thesis on vampires and being a self-proclaimed B-horror film aficionado).  It’s that he harbors an aversion for the usual figures of English literature’s canon like William Shakespeare and commonly anthologized poets.

Instead, his reading interests feature a diverse body of work, ranging from Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, to William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair, to the more recently published Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. His serendipitous path to where he is now seems guided more by his unconventional interests and personal philosophy of equitable education than a desire to assume a high-level role at a large community college.

In the 2016-17 academic year, Camarillo was invited by a colleague to co-write an article about incorporating anti-racism into writing centers by fostering “Brave Spaces” in academia. Historically, these spaces have been seen as arms of higher education to “help” students with their compositions. Camarillo argues that the old model sees students as “broken” or at a deficit, and writing programs are implemented to “fix” the problematic student. He contends that many academic institutions and scholars don’t account for the race or socioeconomic status of students. Instead, they develop learning philosophies centered on an abstract, universal, student, which fails to holistically address their needs.

Camarillo, on the other hand, envisions a Learning Commons that takes careful consideration of the diversity of the local student population, aligning nicely with TCC’s emphasis on equity, inclusion, and belonging. In the fall of 2020, TCC received a $600,000 federal grant to support Hispanic students. The Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program seeks to expand educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students.

Along these same lines of equity, Camarillo draws from the work of Asao B. Inoue, a rhetoric and composition professor at Arizona State University. In his book Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, Inoue challenges the dominant view of academic spaces and theorizes that our forms of assessment in the classroom are often hindered by our preferences for the canon of English literature and standard written English. Consequently, Camarillo’s goal is to question the traditional framework of academic support and understand how TCC, as an institution, can genuinely help students without coercing them from non-standard dialects to conform to standard English. “Academic support can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “It has to be tailored to the unique needs of the students you’re working with and has to grow and change with the student as well.”

Camarillo’s unique and innovative approach is intentional and student-centered, aiming to promote growth and continuous learning as opposed to simply satisfying an item on an assignment’s rubric. And considering the rapid growth and demographic transformation of Tarrant County, his innovative, and forward-thinking approach aligns well with the direction and philosophy of Tarrant County College, making him an exciting and welcome addition to the Northwest team.