Chancellor, The California State University Intersegmental Basic Needs Summit Opening Remarks (as prepared) Costa Mesa, California February 6, 2020
Thank you, Dr. Jarnigan.
Good morning. It’s an honor and a great pleasure to welcome you to the first-ever Intersegmental Basic Needs Summit. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the discussions and collaboration that will occur here over these two days and of the work that all of you do on a day-to-day basis at the California State University, the University of California and at California’s community colleges to help students address housing and food insecurity, mental health issues and other basic needs, so they can focus and thrive on their educational journey of learning and discovery.
These are profound societal issues for our time. The magnitude of the problem and the scope of the need are daunting. And, as everyone in this room knows all too well, our campuses are anything but immune.
At the CSU, our students report food insecurity at rates that significantly exceed those of the general U.S. population.
Approximately 11 percent of Cal State students report experiencing homelessness one or more times over the previous 12 months.
About 16 percent of our students seek mental health care on our campuses, a number that is steadily increasing. “Gen Z,” young people under 25, are facing unprecedented levels of mental distress. They are 50 percent more likely to suffer from major depression and are more prone to suicide than their millennial generation counterparts were at the same age.
These are issues that have a deeply personal significance to me. Over my seven-plus years as chancellor and at each of our 23 campuses, I’ve met the students represented by these stark statistics. We’ve talked about their academic and professional dreams and about the challenges they face. Their intelligence, courage and grit are palpable.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you and your colleagues, as well. I can’t thank you enough for your skilled and dedicated work. Your unwavering commitment to our students’ well-being and success is an inspiration.
And, even though it was five decades ago, I remember like it was yesterday when I needed to reach out for assistance – in the form of food stamps and county-assisted housing – to complete my undergraduate studies at Fresno State. It was a time in my life that taught me that reaching out for a helping hand when necessary is not a weakness, but a strength.
Indeed, the need is great and there are thousands of lives in the balance. And so we act. We act with compassion because it is the right thing to do. We act with courage because it is our moral imperative. But importantly, we also act because this work is inextricably linked to our educational mission.
It’s well established that basic needs insecurity is associated with diminished academic outcomes. But when the services and support we provide help a student to overcome these obstacles and earn their degree, the cycle of poverty can be broken. And, at scale – the breadth of scale that can be achieved by the institutions we represent – our work not only changes lives, perhaps saves lives, it elevates communities, drives California toward its brightest future and provides a meaningful incremental solution to some of the state’s and nation’s most complex and vexing issues.
I am proud of the leadership role the CSU has taken as we’ve tackled these issues head-on. We now have food pantries or food-distribution programs on every campus, in addition to emergency housing or vouchers for off-campus housing. We offer robust mental health services and proactively connect students in need with resources both on campus and off. Campuses offer meal-sharing programs, educational initiatives to de-stigmatize and normalize mental health services, financial literacy workshops... the list of innovative programs is long and growing.
But, of course, we must do more.
This summit is an invaluable opportunity to do more, to share proven best practices among segments and like-minded agencies and organizations, to explore synergies and to coordinate our advocacy efforts and amplify our collective voice in Sacramento and Washington.
This collaborative effort has the potential to forever change the landscape of basic needs work on college and university campuses in California and beyond. And I am fully confident it will have a profound and positive impact on many thousands of current and future students.
Thank you all for being a part of this monumental and groundbreaking convening.